a gospel bigger than I, me, mine, and even us- the only gospel there is

When we open our Bibles, the beginnning is Genesis, for a reason, and the end is the Revelation for a reason, and everything in between counts, every book and for that matter, every line, has its reason and place in the whole.

It is daunting, and takes commitment over time, but we all need to be in the entire Bible, as challenging on many levels as that is, and read it through again and again. When we do, we’ll come to see that the story of Israel picked by God to be a blessing to the world is a central theme. And how that is fulfilled through them, but mainly in anticipation of the true fulfillment in Jesus.

While this is certainly for each person in our relationship to God, it is for every other person, as well, and for the entire world. It’s a good news in and through Jesus which affects everything and is therefore worldly in that sense, or one could say earthly. But in another sense it can’t be worldly at all since it can’t participate, except insofar as it influences the change of worldy structures. This is the case, because the difference is in and through Jesus, and God’s redemption, salvation, and kingdom come in him.

Only when Jesus returns will all things be changed, the god of this age gone; the world, the flesh and the devil being a thing of the past. But until then, we witness not only to a gospel for each individual, but a gospel which is to begin to demonstrate the alternative to what is necessarily in place, in this present evil age and world.

And so we live in the in between times when God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus is beginning to break in through the gospel into the church, and out from that into the world. As we look forward to the end of this age which will bring in the fullness of what has begun now in Jesus, when he returns.

working hard at prayer

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

Ephesians 6

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Colossians 4

I love the times when the Spirit seems to help me pray. Feeling the love, and the blessed empowering of the Spirit as a complete, sheer gift from God. And I want to know more of those times, and engage in prayer during such times. It can seem as if the Spirit is taking our spirit to be with someone else, with their spirit, and in their circumstance.

But more often than not, and for the most part, prayer can seem like drudgery more than delight. I am doubtful that we can blame our spiritual lack on that. It might be more in line with human weakness and living within the realm of the world, the flesh and the devil, even when in and through Christ by the Spirit we are no longer in any of those realms ourselves. Check out the New Testament, if you doubt me on that latter point.

I believe the Spirit can help us through and out of those difficult times of praying, when it seems all is uphill. And then we can experience the empowerment of praying in the Holy Spirit. But one of the all kinds of praying in the Spirit surely must be a kind of wrestling in prayer in which much of our own effort in the midst of all kinds of weakness is given. To struggle to pray, and actually pray in that way is surely not only underrated, but looked at as less than spiritual. But that surely is a mistake.

To live in the realm of the world, the flesh, and the devil -in Christ, is surely to be up against resistance on every side. And dependency on God in our humanity is something Jesus himself experienced on earth as he looked in prayer to the Father. We should neither think we ought to be immune to it, nor be discouraged by it. In fact that sense can be a wake up call for us to get on our feet, more like on our knees so to speak, and pray, and keep on praying. Something I want to keep working on and continue to grow in, in and through Jesus.

we in Jesus are meant to be victorious

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

Revelation 2:12-17

In an existence of the world, the flesh, and the devil, we are not only pummelled with this and that, sometimes real, legitimate concerns, but also at other times real temptations and sins, both in our own lives, and in those around us. I added the first, not germane to the text above, but certainly addressed by our Lord, as well as elsewhere in scripture. This text has to do with actual sin.

The way of victory as translated by the NIV (see also, the NLT and the CEB in the link above) is to be victorious. It is translated as if this is something which is true of us in Jesus, perhaps in keeping with the grammar of the original Greek. We do have it from Romans 8:37 that in all the troubles of this life, particularly because of that which would challenge, undermine and even destroy our faith, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In other words, it’s because of our standing in Jesus that we can indeed emerge victorious. By and in God’s grace in Jesus we can overcome, and in fact we simply are more than conquerors.

There is much opposition to faith and the faith in this life. But even greater than that is the reality that is ours in Jesus, and through his death and resurrection, along with his ascension. We are victorious in him, and we simply need to live out what is true of us already, a recurrent theme in the New Testament concerning our new identity in Jesus. What is his through his person and work is given to us to live out in this world individually and together, to show to the world the power of the gospel and the salvation that is in and through Jesus.

grace strengthens our hearts (but the law doesn’t)

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Hebrews 13

The language of grace is different than what we’re accustomed to, in fact I would say it’s largely foreign to us. We tend to fall into one extreme or another: into living an obligatory life in trying to please God (law), or less likely for myself and people I know, simply believing that we can’t not sin in this life, so we might as well get on with it. But if we’re to learn the language of Paul, we’ll have to learn another tune altogether than either one of these.

It’s true that someone other than Paul most likely wrote the letter to the Hebrews. But that person was certainly in sync with Paul and the message of grace found in Paul’s letters. It’s a message that is radically simple, and simply radical. What we could never do ourselves, Christ did for us through his appearing (the Incarnation), his teaching (pointing us to the kingdom come in him, the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel for the world), and his death and resurrection.

Particularly through Christ’s death, as the book of Hebrews makes clear, our sins are forgiven, and we live in a new realm, the realm of grace. This might be a hard one to wrap our heads around, since most all of our lives we’ve been accustomed to living in the default of law, or obligation. Where we’ve lived is tricky. We believe and feel that we’re obliged to do something for the one who gave his all for us.

That’s tricky and even a bit deceptive since in reality we certainly can’t add a thing to what Christ has done for us. Nor can we delete a thing from it, either, by what we do or fail to do. Of course we can sin against that sacrifice, even as Hebrews itself warns us (see Hebrews chapters 6 and 10). We can treat it in a contemptuous or careless way.

The heart is not strengthened when it is under the constraint and obligation of law. See Romans 7 for the clearest indication of that. There Paul is referring to life under the law apart from grace (Romans 6) and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8). Our only hope for beginning to live the new life is the very same grace through which we entered into that life in the first place. Our own effort, or prescribed works (or proscribed as in forbidden, for that matter) will not carry us into that new life, in fact cannot be a part of it. But on the basis of God’s grace to us in Jesus, we indeed are put into a realm in which there is a new life to be lived, but a life never dependent even on our own faithfulness, but only on that of the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20; see the CEB and context).

That is what I’m working on now. To better understand so as to begin to more fully live in the grace of God in Jesus. And by that live a life in which the heart is strengthened to carry on well in and through Christ himself from the Father by the Spirit.

radical trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Yesterday I finished a book (except for the endnotes), The Cure, by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol and Bill Thrall. I’m not sure how Bible scholars would view the book, and it actually is not a scholarly book. But that doesn’t at all mean that it wasn’t written from sound scholarship. While it might present an important aspect of something within what ends up being more complex, I think it’s worth one’s while to read it, and consider its thesis. I for one, am favorably disposed. I received my copy from our church’s small group leader, and we are set to go through an interactive study of it. The group leader says it changed his life. I tend to be skeptical of any such claim, remembering how books used to impact me in earlier years, but how such effects would wear off usually sooner than later. What seems to me to be in this book’s favor is that our group leader himself is an older, mature Christian, and that the lead author of the book, John Lyynch, does not seem to me to be a fly-by-nighter, an older man himself with decades of pastoral experience.

One of the leading theses of the book (and believe me, don’t think the book is either simplistic, or reductionistic as in thinking there’s an easy answer and fix) is that we’re not to be about pleasing God, but instead, trusting him. And then the pleasing part will come out of that trust. I would like to call it a radical trust in keeping with the message of scripture, and the gospel, and quite evident in the passage quoted above (click the reference above to get some other interesting translations of Proverbs 3:5-6). The book is wise and avoids at least one pitfall I can think of: an individualistic approach, which misses the central place of community in the spiritual life, and I can think of another I won’t add here. And I’m confident there are more.

This book is very much in keeping with what has come to my attention as of late, a needed emphasis that in some way may be lacking in my life: grace, and in particular, God’s grace. It is a grace which not only forgives, but puts us into the place not of law and duty, but of love and its compelling dynamic. I can see where the book could well be misunderstood by reviewers and readers, although I think in such cases, it would be a misreading of the book to come to such conclusions. When there is an emphasis on grace, it is easy to think that there’s a skirting of law, but I think the book captures well something of what Paul was getting at in his writings, how the law itself does not help us to keep it, hampered by our sinful flesh, and the reality that we were never meant to live as self-sufficient creatures to begin with. But that we’re dependent on God’s grace in and through Jesus, and Jesus’s death and resurrection, as well as on the gift of the Holy Spirit, to begin to mature in this new life. Another key thesis of this book is that we’re to live our of what we already are through our identity in Christ.

I think the book provides a good mix of solid biblical, theological truth, with wise pastoral understanding. We work through such truth in the gospel with fits and starts, steps backward after making progress, etc.

So I’m looking forward in the context of our small group, in seeking to better understand and apply the truth of the gospel from this book into my own life. And sharing facets of that truth with others, including any readers of this blog.

But for now, I’ll end this post with the thought, God in Jesus through the gospel is completely committed to us in an unwavering love which doesn’t love us either more, or less, because of anything we either do, or fail to do. We need to let the truth sink in of the radical nature of the gospel, before we can apply it radically to our own lives, as followers of the one who not only loved us, but loves us. And longs to be in close fellowship with us. And is united to us: we in him, and he in us, to the very end.

the fruit of the Spirit contrasted to the works of the flesh

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality,impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited,provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:13-26

I was much impressed in my meditation over scripture yesterday, now in Galatians, over the contrast of the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. And I didn’t want this to be an impression which comes and goes, and maybe only jogs the mind in a certain direction to correspond more to truth. But I prayed that this reality through the Spirit may be more and more who I am, as opposed to the works of the flesh, which I can at least in my heart fall into. And that I’ll learn better how to keep in step with the Spirit, and the Spirit’s working in my life.

When all around us is such great divisiveness, yes, even hate, we as God’s people in Jesus need to show the better way, not our imitation of Jesus, but the the Spirit enabling us to walk in his steps, beginning in our relationships with each other. Yes, to show the world a better way, the way actually, in Jesus. And to do so by no less than the blessed Holy Spirit. He alone as God can help us live in a different sphere, regardless of our feelings, or what we’re up against. To live in that fruit which is not of us, but of him, and yet worked into our very hearts and lives. My prayer to God is that this will be more and more the case in my life.

knowing Satan’s schemes

For we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes.

2 Corinthians 2

Whether we like it or not, we in Jesus are in a spiritual battle. And the more serious we are about our walk in the Lord, the more real that warfare will become.

Yes, Satan and his hosts are defeated through the risen Christ’s death (Colossians 2:15). We in Christ have the victory, and can live in that by faith. But living within that is not automatic.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5

The world, the flesh, and the devil have aptly been called the unholy trinity, not that such is actually analgous with the Blessed Trinity, but because in scripture these three though distinct, are in sync with each other. The world refers to the world system set against God either subtely, or not so subtely. The flesh refers to humankind under the power of sin, manifest individually and systemically. And the devil is Satan, or evil personified, actually in a person which in their evil loses what is good of personhood, and disguises evil as good.

We in Christ by the Spirit and in the communion of the church need discernment from God to understand the enemy’s working, what they’re up to, and how they trip us up. There is no question that they do. And we need to be not only aware of that, but to learn to recognize it when it is happening, and know what to do to resist and overcome it. And we have to remember that in this present life this spiritual warfare will continue on (Ephesians 6:10-18) until the Lord returns.*

To be aware of this we might well say is half the battle, but we need to know what to do, as well. We certainly need to resist and stand firm, holding on to the gospel as the power of God to overcome sin, death, and evil. While seeking to remain responsible, our final hope and confidence lies only in the good news of God who is Jesus, with all the meaning that comes with that in God’s revelation found in scripture and taught by the church. There is no easy formula. It involves our entire life, and all of God’s revelation to us in Jesus, received not only once, but over and over again. Through a once for all salvation, which involves a process in growth in grace into increasing conformity to God’s will in Jesus. So that even though we through Jesus can do better and overcome some things, we must be ready for more. Hopefully getting better and better at it, as we look forward to our Lord’s return when evil will be vanquised forever and this spiritual warfare done.

*See C. S. Lewis’s, The Screwtape Letters for a most interesting, informative look at this, told in an imaginative, true to life story.