to the undeserving: all of us

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:1-7

How we translate Ephesians 2:3b is debated. It is literally “we were by nature, children of wrath” (see link above for different translations and here for all of them on Bible Gateway).

Children of wrath is a Semitic idiom which may mean either “people characterized by wrath” or “people destined for wrath.”

NET Bible note

Even though it could mean that we’re by nature, wrathful, I think both the immediate context, and the biblical context as a whole warrants the NIV‘s translation above. We’re indeed by nature deserving of God’s wrath because of our sin and wickedness. Wrath one might say is shorthand for God’s judgment. God’s anger can be involved, but oftentimes wrath in Scripture is in the context of God’s judgment. This meaning is brought out in at least many English Bible translations which try to provide clarity on what would be ambiguous to the reader, probably particularly where it seems there is sufficient clarity. Of course that can be swayed by theological understanding. The Bible translation sponsored by Mainline Protestantism which attempts to do this, the Common English Bible (CEB) translates this similarly:

All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

But thankfully it doesn’t stop there. To see how well that thought follows, click the (CEB) link just above, which is especially clear.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:4-7

God’s love we can say cancels out God’s judgment or more accurately taking it on God’s self (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) through Christ and the cross. There’s no other way according to Scripture’s consistent testimony throughout, completed in the gospel.

So yes, to the undeserving, all of us: God’s gift of love in forgiveness of sins and eternal life is made available as a gift to receive by faith. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

cleansing from idols

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36:25-27

We read as the first of the Ten Words, which we call the Ten Commandments:

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exodus 20:3-6

Idolatry is endemic to humanity. Simply put, it’s putting anything above God. We were created to be in relationship with God and with each other. And God is not only alone deserving of our entire devotion, but we find our true value and the value of everyone and everything in light of the revelation of God. And when we give God our complete love in response to God’s love, we actually find that our love for others is more pure and indeed sacrificial.

“Love” in the world is often more about what I want than what I can give. It often is essentially self-centered. Not to say that there aren’t people who love others self-sacrificially apart from worshiping, indeed even knowing God. That is part of the image of God in humanity. But sin has come into the picture, so that human beings are inherently self-seeking, turned in on themselves, their own interests, and not God’s interests. And ironically to put oneself first ends up resulting in loss, including the loss of one’s very self, according to Jesus. But acknowledging God as the one who is worthy of full devotion is to find one’s own self, and the true value of others, seeing the blessing of others through who they are, and not by what we can get out of them for ourselves.

But what we need is nothing less than a cleansing of the impurity of our hearts from idolatry. Only God can do that, and it occurs in what in theology is called “regeneration.” In the context quoted above in Ezekiel, it is a promise for Israel and involves the promised land as well. In Christ it’s fulfilled within the promise given to Abraham, that he would be the father of all nations, and thus inherit the world. So what is needed is nothing less than a change of heart. And ultimately, as the passage indicates, and as we read elsewhere in Scripture, only God can do that.

That is our need. It’s not easy, because ironically when we’re tuned into God and God’s love, we’ll love others all the more. It will be a love, not about us, or our wants and needs, but for the good of others, to serve them in God’s love. We genuinely love and care about others in God’s love. And we experience God’s love for us and others. It’s important to remember that we’re included, loved by God, who loves in a way that’s beyond our wildest imagination, with no end. But we know and experience that love only through the cleansing, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Something we should ask for and value, basic to our lives. In and through Jesus.

 

 

prejudice, racism, and loving your neighbor as yourself

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:36-37

Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan is considered a classic for good reason. And it really puts us on our heels in a number of ways, regardless of who we are. (Read or listen to this interesting piece.) The one who did good was part of a people who were not only looked down upon, but utterly despised by the Jews. Samaritans did not hold to the faith, and they were a mixed race. But Jesus singled out a Samaritan, as opposed to a Jewish priest and levite, as being the one who epitomized what it meant to love one’s neighbor, a staple of the Jewish faith, in contrast to the Jewish religious men who failed to do that.

There’s no way getting around it. We probably all struggle with prejudice. It’s not like we ought to simply accept that, but when we don’t understand another culture, it is easy to simply dismiss them as somehow not measuring up, yes to our culture. And surely they end up looking at us in much the same way. Just that realization should help us curb our tendency toward prejudice. We realize our own weakness and lack of understanding, so that we more and more refuse to prejudge anyone. Rather we might ask questions, or simply assume the best. While at the same time giving no one a free pass on what is plainly wrong.

Racism is another, more serious matter. It has a marked, troubling history in the United States, and actually is still alive today. And for one reason: humans are sinful, and inherently see others who are different as somehow inferior to themselves. Again, refer to the article linked above which I would say substantiates this Christian claim, even if people in it would not use the word “sin”. If we all struggle with sin, then to some extent, we might struggle with racism. Racism simply put is the opinion, even conviction that one’s own race is somehow superior, and that other races are somehow inferior. By race I mean one’s ethnicity, their ethnic roots, which oftentimes is marked by skin color and culture.

Scripture does not either deny the diversity within humanity, or try to tamp it down. Rather, as we see in the last book in the Bible, it acknowledges and one might even say, celebrates it. The gospel in the reconciliation it brings, integrates into the one humanity, all the different peoples. And that would include everything they have to contribute to the whole. This is all considered a gift from God in creation, and especially in new creation in Jesus.

Like “the good Samaritan,” it’s not enough at all to agree intellectually. We must act on that, regardless of what prejudices we still might have. And see ourselves not only as givers, but also as receivers of God’s good gift and blessing from others who we don’t readily identify with. More and more learning to see our differences as complementary, as we find our unity in the love of God that is in and through Jesus.

is God really love?

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:7-21

I am having a hard time on my own believing that “God is love,” as the Scripture tells us here. There’s just too much evil, and even so-called “acts of God” to make one see God as love. Little children killed in accidents, or even in natural disasters, etc., etc. And on top of that one might have a hard time accepting love for themselves, since their experience because of sins against them and their own sins have made their inner life mostly a desert.

But this passage from the beloved disciple John, the one who leaned on Jesus’s breast, and seemed maybe more than all the others to have received God’s love in Jesus most deeply, is at least helpful to me. And a passage I need to dwell on, and take in more for myself.

I lament the lack of love in our world, and even among Christians, those who profess to follow Christ. If we don’t live in love then nothing else we do matters. Do we really believe that? What we believe is evident from just what we think, and  out of that, how we live.

In the end I have to trust the testimony of God in Jesus, in the good news: the gospel. That gives hope, and hopefully impacts life in a way that can make the much needed difference. So that one will really believe what they do, or even their existence matters. For one reason: love. From the source of all real love in creation and new creation, the God who is love, and is revealed in and through Jesus.

we become like who or what we focus on, what we love and hate

Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

Psalm 115:2-8

A frightening thought today: but I think it’s psychologically, and far more importantly for me, biblically and theologically sound: We become like who or what we either love or hate.

First the easier, or more obvious: We become like what we love. I think of a man and woman who have been happily married at least a good share of their marriage for decades. They know each other practically better than they know themselves, and feel completely at home only in the presence of the other. They may have completely different personalities, but they believe they are one flesh in the holy state of matrimony. That may seem like a far fetched example, but there is a sense of awe and reverence for the other which ought to carry over into all of life. Akin to “the fear of the LORD being the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs).

We become like the one we admire. And who should we admire and esteem the most? Of course if there’s a god, than that god, at least you would think. We Christians reverence God and accept the love of that Triune God in and through Christ by the Holy Spirit. And Scripture tells us that we as God’s children through faith in Christ are being made more and more like Christ. We somehow through God’s work are becoming more and more the people we were created to be, no less than brothers and sisters in the very family of God.

But what if we don’t love God? What if it’s a love focused on ourselves, or someone else? Then either we, or whoever, or even whatever becomes the measure of everything. And the problem with that is that we’re all sinners. We are a mix of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, but somehow never measuring up to whatever good aspirations we might have. And often pursuing what is really not good at all, or is at least a waste. It ends up being the blind leading the blind, like sheep going astray, heading toward a dead end, or even for a cliff. Not good to say the least. We need God’s grace and salvation found in Jesus.

What about what we hate? We must beware here. Indeed we should hate all that’s evil, while we love all that’s good. But we must be careful lest in that hatred we become like the very thing we hate. In the passage above, people of olden times didn’t necessarily love their gods. In fact they often feared them in more like utter fright, believing them to be vindictive if they failed to meet their demands. And while we may not have those kinds of gods today, we do have figurative gods in their place that are every bit as real. The idol of ambition to make it to the top and maybe be well known. The idol of pleasing someone who or something that demands a loyalty that is both crushing and demeaning. Causing us to act in certain ways we never would otherwise. Whatever it might be, anything less than the God revealed in Christ and found in Scripture does not deserve any such place in our hearts and lives.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.

William Cowper

Only God’s grace meaning God’s undeserved, unearned favor in the gift of Christ can make the needed difference in our lives. But even after receiving that grace, we must beware lest we drift back into our old ways. We must hold onto God’s grace in Jesus through faith. We must turn away from other things and keep our focus on Christ. In so doing we will be looking into the face of God. And will change from glory to glory into that resemblance beginning in this life, to be perfected when we see Jesus.

 

it take a church

Nowadays there seems to have been a backlash against what was used by a political candidate here in the US some years back: “It takes a village.” Actually that has plenty of truth in it, just as does the idea that we can’t depend on others to do for us what only we can do. They can’t live our lives for us. Nor should we expect others to do for us what we can do ourselves. True. But the prevailing emphasis on individual rights and freedom nowadays perhaps is the idea that we can get along just fine on our own, that we need no one else.

God’s word and its fulfillment in Jesus tells us something entirely different. Humans are made for community. Yes, some of us like our space, and need more separation than others. But none of us were made for isolation, for solitary confinement. As God says in Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make one corresponding him,  as complements to each other” (Genesis 2; my paraphrase).

Sin divides us from God and each other. At its core sin is a violation of love for God, and for neighbor, which really ends up being all humanity, especially in the world in which we live today, a shrinking globe due to our ability to traverse so well. God’s saving work in Christ is at heart a reconciliation to God and to each other. That reconciliation is front and center in the church. Through the gospel: baptism and the Lord’s table being central in enacting and displaying it.

“It takes a church” we might say. Yes, made up of imperfect, broken, yet being put together people like you and I. Just ordinary people, and often struggling to one degree or another. But our lives are meant to be lived not in isolation, but with others. If we’re “in Christ” by faith, then we’re in Christ’s body, the church. Our identity then, is not only in Christ, but in his body, the church.

That seems often minimized in evangelical Christian circles, with an emphasis on people’s individual response to the gospel and God’s word. But it is not minimized in the very Scripture we evangelicals hold as central to our faith. We need to acclimate ourselves to something different. The life of God we find in Jesus is especially made known in the church. And imbibed and then lived out yes even in the church through what we might call the sacraments, and our lives lived together in communion with each other. And from that sent out on mission. In and through Jesus.

the unreal real world

“Get a life,” we sometimes think, in our own words perhaps, but when we view others who seem self-destructive, and on their path, destructive of others. Not to mention all the conflict and strife in the world, with cruel despots in power in too many places. It’s all quite real, the reality in which we live.

But it’s not at all the reality that God intended. In creation, God made everything “good” and in the end after he had created humanity it was all “very good” (Genesis 1). God’s blessing was on everything, with his full blessing contingent on whether or not humankind, that is Adam and Eve would be obedient to the only prohibition God made, that they should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Whether or not this is symbolic or literal, the point is that Adam and Eve (humankind) had the choice of trusting God, in God’s goodness and word, or in ultimately being left to themselves, losing their so-called innocence, more like the wisdom and knowledge God was ready to pour on them. And instead knowing good and evil in their experience in a way God never intended. When Eve ate of the fruit of that forbidden tree, then Adam, their eyes were opened in a way God never intended. For the first time they felt shame and wanted to hide from each other as well as from God (Genesis 3).  And humankind has never recovered.

We live in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be, and that includes ourselves, who we are. Neither we nor the world has arrived, for sure. Instead, in biblical theological terms, we’re fallen and broken. It’s a mistake to think that somehow through the means of this present time, we can arrive to an idyllic world. It’s also equally an error to think that excuses humankind for not striving for a better world in which love for neighbor, for everyone is taken seriously. But evil has to be dealt with, sometimes in no uncertain terms.

We in Jesus have begun to live in the real world as God intended. Although it seems incremental, and sometimes all but lost in its already present / not yet completed state, nevertheless it’s as undeniable as the breath we breathe. Sometimes we’re left with just knowing intellectually, we know not why experientially, but based on faith in Christ and his historical resurrection from the dead. Other times, the experience of God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit makes life seem more than worthwhile as God’s righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14:17-18) becomes the place in which we live.

So we in Jesus live as those of another realm in this realm. As lights in a dark world, citizens of heaven, partakers of the new creation, longing for and looking forward to the redemption of all things. In and through Jesus.