gratitude & hoopla: November 2005

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton


"For This Reason": Paul's Purpose in Prayer is God's Plan for His People

So we arrive at last at Paul's great prayer for spiritual power, so that the Ephesians may be "filled with all the fullness of God." I have had much to say about this prayer in the past. It simply resonates with me, it gets me excited, and I find I want to pray this prayer for everyone I know. So consider this fair warning. I'm likely to park here for a few days.

Here's the prayer in its entirety [in the ESV]:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now, I have many questions about this passage. For example, why would Paul pray that Christ would dwell in their hearts, when they, as believers, are presumably already indwelt by him? And in what way is power necessary in order for them to have Christ dwelling in them?

I am not going to attempt to answer these questions here and now. Instead, I'm going to walk through this passage slowly, phrase by phrase. But first I simply want to make a few "overview" comments. I want to connect this prayer with the main theme of Paul's argument thus far. And in fact, the opening phrase of Paul's prayer, "for this reason," provides the connection to that argument. So what is "the reason" for his prayer? For the answer to this question, you have to go all the way back to 2:22--
In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
So that's the reason Paul is praying, and that's really the text that connects us with the dominant theme of these first three chapters of the epistle.

I simply want to summarize that theme, so we can understand the starting point (and ending point) of Paul's prayer. Many times, in these chapters, Paul has spoken of God's plan/purpose/will/intent. That plan is first summarized at 1:10, where Paul says that the purpose of God, which had long been a "mystery," was once and for all "set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." See? God's ultimate plan is to "unite all things in him." Now, if that seems a little difficult to grasp, Paul unpacks the concept further in the following chapter-and-a-half. In sum: God took a people who were clearly not united in him, but instead were dead in their sin, sons of disobedience, children of wrath, and through the cross he raised them to new life, and even seated them at his own right hand in Christ. That's an image of unity. In other words: through Christ's salvific work of the cross God has initiated his longterm plan of uniting all things in him.

Move on now to chapter 2 and you'll see that Paul sheds still more light on this uniting process. After describing God's miraculous dissolution of the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile (creating "a new man in the place of the two"), Paul asserts that the Ephesians as a group, as a body, are being built together, on the cornerstone of Christ Jesus, into a dwelling place for God. Do you see how in this metaphor Paul has found yet another way to describe God's purpose to unite all things in him?

So, in a nutshell, it is God's purpose to unite all things to himself. This purpose was "set forth" in Christ. In order fulfill this purpose, the law and the commandments had to be abolished, and replaced simply by the grace of God, which he lavished on us in Christ Jesus. As a result, those who have believed, those who have trusted in Christ and who as a result have the Holy Spirit as a down payment of their inheritance to come, these have become the church, which is Christ's body, the "fullness" of God, and are being built into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Note well: they are being built. That is, they are not yet the finished cathedral. They are not yet, to change the metaphor, mature. They have not yet reached their full potential, their destiny (see Ephesians 4:13). They have not yet received their inheritance in full. God is not yet dwelling in them in "fullness." And this is the "reason" that Paul bends his knee before the Father. This is the reason he prays that the Ephesians would be indwelt by Christ through faith, that they would be "filled with all the fullness of God." He is praying, in other words, for the completion and fulfillment of the Father's longstanding purpose to unite all things in himself.

That's all for today. I hope and pray that Paul's prayer for the fullness of Christ will be answered in your life today. May you too be strengthened to comprehend the full measure of God's love for you, so that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.


A Self-Designed Devotional

Wow . . . four whole days, nearly five, without blogging. And yet . . . it's okay. All is well. Thanksgiving was tasty and fun. And meanwhile, I've continue to sink each morning into Paul's little letter to the Ephesians. This has truly become that blog about Ephesians, hasn't it? But then the principle purpose of g&h is to serve as a kind of personal bulletin board of God's grace in my life. And these days, his grace is coming to me through his Word, and most precisely through the Epistle to the Ephesians.

So be it. This all began when I decided to replace my daily devotional reading with a process of my own devising. This was an experiment of sorts, but I have found it very rewarding.

First, having chosen the Epistle to the Ephesians as my text, I begin each morning by copying out a passage. I do this carefully, printing in as clear a hand as I know how (I use a mechanical pencil and a nifty Moleskine journal). The length of the passage varies from one or two verses to as many as ten, and I often repeat-copy the same passage on several consecutive mornings.

Next, I journal my personal response to the passage. Sometimes this involves simply restating Paul's message in my own words. Sometimes, working out my thoughts regarding the meaning of the text. I try to stay very close to the text here, and not let my thoughts stray to other matters. The goal is to see the passage clearly, and to catch the overall direction of Paul's argument.

Finally, if any part of this scribbling seems like it might be useful to others, I share it here at g&h.

That's it. That's my morning devotional. It has the great benefit of really encouraging an engagement with the text that goes well beyond mere reading. I am very pleased with this process so far.

As of this morning, I have reached Ephesians 3:14. I am about to take up Paul's great prayer that the Ephesians would grasp how wide and long and high and deep is God's love for them. More on all this (probably much more) in the days ahead.


From Knowers to Learners

Ephesians 2:1-10, wherein Paul describes both the dark past and the bright future of every believer, was intended as an illustration of the power of God on behalf of believers, exercised (it seems almost needless to say) in perfect love.

We might summarize it this way: How great is that power? So great, that it can reach down and save even those who languish in the grip of the prince of "the powers of the air," and then so great again that it can place these same "in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus." Paul deploys all his rhetorical firepower in order to help the Ephesians understand more vividly, more accurately, the immeasurable greatness of God's power and grace toward them.

This is a point I want to investigate further. Apparently, when it comes to knowledge of God and the things of God, there is knowing, and then there is knowing. We may know the grace of God, but then again we are not finished learning it. Truly the Christian is a student in the school of grace, a school from which we will never graduate. There is always more to learn. His grace, you see, is immeasurable, and therefore to speak of knowledge of his grace is necessarily to speak of knowing in part. Let us not be satisfied, but let us grow in the knowledge of his grace.

It is Paul's mission--it is one of his epistolary purposes--to convert his readers from knowers to learners. To show them that, where their knowledge of God and the things of God is concerned--his grace, his power, his love--they have as yet only scratched the surface. This is why Paul prays for the Ephesians that they have a spirit of wisdom and revelation, and for the Colossians, that they would "increase in the knowledge of God." [1:10] To know and assent to certain fundamental truths concerning God (such as, for example, the doctrine of grace) is only the beginning. A spirit of wisdom and revelation is necessary because, concerning the things of God, we know only in part. God wants us to increase in knowledge!

Now, we are not speaking here of new knowledge or of secret wisdom, but of a keener, richer, deeper knowing of that which has already been revealed to us. Let's go back to Ephesians 2:1-10. In verse 1 through 3 Paul paints a picture of the old life of the Ephesian believers--who they once were--and then in verses 4 through 10 of their new life and their new destiny in Christ. It is in verse 7 that we find the purpose statement:
so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Think of this. Paul has already said that God's ultimate goal was to unite all things to himself. [Eph 1:10] Now he says that in that new age God will show us the immeasurable riches of his grace. I don't take that to mean that we will thoroughly understand the full measure of his grace--how can we know the immeasurable? What I think Paul is saying is that we will see at last that his grace toward us was indeed immeasurable, and needed to be. We were immeasurably lost, and needed an immeasurable "kindness" to save us.

In heaven we will at last be apt pupils of god's immeasurable grace, receiving moment by moment an increased knowledge of its depths and riches. And we will never reach the point of saturation. We will never cry, "Enough!" We will have a holy hunger for more, we will be continually more amazed, more thankful, as we grow more aware of the sheer indefatigable bounty of his grace.

God, help us even now to receive a foretaste of that heavenly blessing, help us to be receptive students in your school of grace, growing daily in the knowledge of your strong love for us.


The Power

We've reached chapter 2 of Ephesians at last, but then of course that's an artificial designation. Chapter 2 continues a thought process with which chapter 1 ended. Paul has just been saying that the same power at work in Christ to raise him from the dead is at work in us who are, as Paul says so characteristically, "in Christ."

That's the larger point to be kept in mind as we go on. Paul is "illustrating" the power of God by reminding the Ephesians what God has already saved them from. The first 3 verses of chapter 2 (in the ESV) say this:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, —among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
To paraphrase: Having told the Ephesian believers that they have the same power working in them that worked in Christ Jesus to raise him from the dead, Paul now reminds them that they too were dead, after a fashion. He says, you have a destiny of blessings now, but back then you followed a different "course." You were dead in sin, helpless. Like a lifeless leaf on an Autumn wind, you just went with the flow. That might not sound so bad, except that this wind, you see, is ruled by "the prince of the power of the air." You had no motive-force within you to resist. You were, then, children of that prince, like him in his wrath and in his disobedience. As Jesus told the Pharisees, you were children of the devil.

This was what God saved you Ephesians from, says Paul. This then is the power at work within you. A power to pluck you from that wind-current, and set you stable on a Rock. Amazing, no? The next verses will reveal what God saved them for.


Ephesians 1: A Summary

Having come to the end of chapter 1 of Ephesians, I'd like to summarize Paul's message in my own words. The chapter sweeps from the mind of God before the creation (v.3) to the final denouement of the cosmic drama, when all things in heaven and earth shall be united to him (v.10). This is supremely a chapter of assurance. Paul says that all who are "in Christ" have been chosen before the foundation of the world (before God said "Let there be light," he chose you, Believer) and are destined, in accordance with his plan and purpose, to stand before him "holy and blameless," (v.4) in perfect unity with him. Paul calls this our inheritance, (v.11) summarizing it as "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." (v.3)

So the Ephesians, and by extension all who are "in Christ," find themselves in the midst of this unfolding plan of God. The drama isn't over, but into the midst of it, and at the perfect time, Christ entered the scene (v.9). Through him, and because of the work of the cross, we have adoption into the family of God (v.5), redemption (purchase from our former owners), and the complete forgiveness of all our sins (v.7). And in him the formerly mysterious will of God, his plan for us and for all creation, has been unveiled (v.9). Furthermore, in him we now enjoy a down payment of the heavenly blessings mentioned above. A downpayment of unity with God. A down payment of knowledge of his will. A down payment of holiness and blamelessness. It is the Spirit of God, and it is an infallible assurance to our hearts that we are indeed bound for glory. (v.14)

We might describe such a situation as this as "the way between." The well-worn metaphor of the road or the journey is appropriate here. At the end of the journey, a glorious inheritance awaits us, unity with God, standing holy and blameless before him. In the meantime, we are clearly "not there yet." We have great assurance certainly, and reason for confidence, but as yet it cannot be said that we experience that perfect "unity with God." What then might be an appropriate prayer for travelers such as ourselves, a people in the midst of the way?

Well, Paul prays that the Ephesians would have a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God, (v.15) so that they will have a clearer understanding of their destination, and be able to draw on the power of God on their behalf along the way. (v.18) In our case, the journey is not the destination--the destination is the destination. It is the destination toward which we travel that governs the way we choose to go. Coming to a fork in the road, the relevant question is, which way is the way to the heavenly Kingdom? In short, we want to be headed in the right direction. So the better we know our destination ("the hope to which we are called"), the more determined and steadfast we will be to get there.

However, there are problems. So in addition to knowing more about our destination, we will need to know the power of God on our behalf. There are, along this way, obstacles, enemies, temptations, that will surely do us in, if we are left only to our own devices. We need, then, knowledge and power.

Thanks be to God that he is not reluctant to wield his power on our behalf, for the sake of bringing to pass his eternal purposes. Nothing can stand in his way. It is the same power that was at work in Christ, having raised him from the dead and placed him in a position of authority in the heavens. (v.20) It is a power greater than death, and above all of this world's rulers and dominions. (v.21) And here Paul gives us one more verbal rendering of the purpose of God. All things will be "under the feet" (subject to the authority of) Jesus Christ. (v.22) His Lordship, in other words, will be made complete.

So that's chapter 1 of Ephesians, according to me. As I said above, it is supremely a chapter of assurance. It assures those who are in Christ of what God has done for them, what God shall do for them, and the power available to them now. But the reason that God's power is necessary is that, well, we have enemies. At the end of the chapter, Paul speaks of this world's thrones, powers, and dominions. At the start of the second chapter he will speak more of these things, and also of the former condition of believers in relation to those powers.


Strolling through Ephesians

I'm working my way very slowly through Ephesians as a morning devotional. I stay with a passage until I sense that it's time to move on. Usually I write the passage out (a practice I learned from my wife, the Lovely L), and then I rewrite it in my own words: either the whole passage, or one particular verse or even phrase. Eventually I journal my own thoughts on the subject, perhaps bringing in other texts, perhaps coming up with a brief parable to illustrate the point.

And some of this I've been sharing here at g&h. These are not "finished" and finely-crafted documents. They are, instead, a sample of my morning preoccupations. This is me, working my way through Ephesians, wondering, ruminating, following (I hope) where the text leads. These are the The blogposts from this series so far: Before the Foundation, Grace-kindled, The Down Payment, Wisdom and Revelation, Possessing the Inheritance, and most recently On Experiencing the Hope of Glory and the Power of God.

I'm going to keep at this. I'm not the least bit tired of Ephesians. Heck, I'm not even tired of the first chapter. I'm just more sure that this is what I want to be doing here at g&h. Come along with me, if you like. And if you feel so inclined, join in the conversation as we go.


On Experiencing the Hope of Glory and the Power of God

I'm still pondering Paul's prayer for the Ephesians in the first chapter. Paul prays that the Ephesians would have a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they might know God, and the hope to which they have been called, and the power of God on their behalf.

Now, Paul is writing to a church, and to a church moreover that has become known for its love and faith. So these people "know God." They are born again believers. And yet Paul prays that they will gain a spirit of wisdom and revelation, "so that they may know God."

Paul clearly believes they can know God more, know him better, receive more wisdom and revelation concerning him. This is the place we're all in. We can all stand to know more. We say, if we are believers, that we know God, but really we're in a position of great ignorance. We know him, but there is so much more to know.

I looked up these words--wisdom, revelation--in a Greek lexicon.

1) the word wisdom is "sophia." It is human understanding, "the varied knowledge of things human and divine, acquired by acuteness and experience, and summed up in maxims and proverbs." It corresponds well with our noun, "understanding."

2) the word revelation refers to the laying bear or revealing of something that had till then remained hidden; "used of events by which things or states or persons hitherto withdrawn from view are made visible to all." It seems to me that, in the present context, this requires supernatural intervention. As in the case of John, to whom awesome heavenly visions were uncovered (revealed), it is God who reveals. We do not barge into the heavenlies, but to some small degree heavenly things may be revealed to us.

So Paul prays for a spirit of wisdom (intelligence, prudence, keen understanding) and of revelation (the revealing of things hidden), but note well the key modifier: it is wisdom and revelation with regard to the knowledge of God. To have a spirit of wisdom and revelation is to have an attitude of thoughtfulness and a receptivity to God's "uncovering" of Himself!

Finally, in verse 18, we find the reason why. The purpose of this specific prayer is so that the Ephesian Christians may know the hope to which they've been called and the immeasurable power of God on their behalf.

Note: the word "know" is the Greek verb eido, and it connotes experiential knowing, perception with the eyes or the senses, understanding something through the experience of it. For example, I know about the Grand Canyon, but I've never been there. So, though I may know about it, I do not truly eido it. Through study I can learn much about the canyon, but even then I will not know it with this eido kind of knowing. To gain such knowledge, I must take it in with my senses. I must go to the canyon, I must see and experience its grandeur.

In conclusion, it would not be far wrong to say that Paul is praying that the Ephesians would not just know of, but truly know (experience), the hope to which they've been called and the immeasurable power of God on their behalf. He wants them to know better, to know more profoundly, more acutely, this hope and this power. There is never a point in the Christian walk in which this prayer is not supremely appropriate. May you experience ever more distinctly, even at this moment, the hope to which you've been called ("the glorious riches"), and also the incredible power that God wields on your behalf right now.


Take and Read

We bloggers exchange a lot of verbiage, and much of it is quickly forgotten. That's the nature of the medium, and I'm not complaining. But once in a while someone blogs something so real, so moving, so important, that it must not, cannot, be forgotten. Worship Madly has done just that. His recent post, Medication (The End) is the third and last in a series (read Part 1 and Part 2 first, by all means). I will say no more. Just read it.

Haloscan Redux

After a second or two of careful consideration, I have decided to reinstall commenting and trackback. I had gone with the Blogger commenting system for a while, but missed the trackback function of Haloscan, and I even have a hunch that people will be more willing to leave comments now, since they won't have to decipher one of those wiggly-words, like:

Know what I mean? So, it's back to Haloscan for me.

Possessing the Inheritance: Ephesians 1:11-14

In Ephesians 1:11 Paul says we have "obtained" our inheritance; but then, in verse 14, he says that we have not yet come into "possession" of it. The inheritance is ours, it seems, but we do not yet possess it. Here I take possess to mean something like, "to experience as a manifest reality." We might say, to have "in hand." But Paul also says that the Holy Spirit is essentially a token or down payment of this inheritance (elsewhere the word is "foretaste" or first fruits). In other words, the Holy Spirit is an experiential ("in hand") confirmation of that which is not yet enjoyed in fullness.

Paul summarizes this "not yet" back in verse 3: "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." In a word, it is our "inheritance." We have obtained it in a legal sense, but we have not yet come into possession of it. It is a promise, and to the extent that we do possess it, that fact is a seal or guarantee of what is to come. This seal, this down payment, this "first fruit," is the Holy Spirit.

Notice: that which is now (experientially) is set against that which is not yet. There is a contrast here. In other words, that which we receive as a down payment is the actual present-time experience of a future grace. The point is, the Holy Spirit is an experienced manifestation of that which is otherwise future and therefore inexperiencable, that which can only be accepted on faith, without our having "seen" it (Hebrews 11:1: "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen").

It's like this. Suppose you were to inherit a vineyard in a distant country. The vineyard has been deeded to you. The legal work is done, and the vineyard is yours by right, by law, even though you have never been there. It is yours, and no one else can claim ownership of it.

But the fact is, though you have "obtained" it, you have not yet come into "possession" of it. It is to you a matter of speculation and happy imagining, but not of direct experience. With this exception: your advocate has sent you, as a token and pledge of what is to come, a bottle of wine, distilled from the grapes of your vineyard. Each time you uncork that bottle, you whiff the bouquet of your vineyard. You experience ("possess") your inheritance. Your friends come to visit, and you pour them out a taste of the fruit of your vineyard, "to the praise of the glory of God."


Blogging the Cross (1)

Aron of some thoughts blogs about the doctrine of the atonement. After describiing the necessity, nature, perfection, and extent of the atonement, Aron writes,
All this is to say that Christ is an actual saviour–that he is our true Redeemer! He humbled himself and became a man for us, he lived a righteous life for us, he preached and prophesied and performed miracles for us, he proclaimed the gospel to us, he was tortured, beaten, spit upon, and crucified for us–that is he absorbed the full wrath of God for us, he died and was buried three days for us, he rose again for us, he ascended to the father where he makes continual intercession for us–and one day soon he is coming again for us! To these things he was appointed by the Father–and it is impossible that he should fail!
["Blogging the Cross" will be a regular feature at gratitude & hoopla (hence the parenthetical number). I will highlight, as I find them, blogposts that focus on the cross of Christ. Suggestions welcomed.]

Wisdom and Revelation

Ephesians 1:15-23
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
I have been sinking into the first chapter of Ephesians each morning for, oh, maybe two weeks now. Like a stick of dynamite, this small package of words packs a powerful punch. It sweeps from the counsels of God prior to creation, to the redemptive purpose of the cross of Christ, and on to the glorious inheritance of those who believe, to whom is given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee or down payment. And that's just the first 14 verses! After that, Paul prays for the Ephesians, and really he simply prays that they would understand and be assured of two things.

1) He wants them to be assured of their inheritance. This is Paul's word for their eternal destination, and all the spiritual blessings stored up for them there. Paul's emphasis in this chapter is on this inheritance. It is clearly quite important to Paul that the Ephesians settle this matter in their hearts. He wants them to rest assured. Their inheritance is certain. This understanding only comes through revelation. This is, in other words, deep knowledge. We don't get it by looking at the stars or by contemplating our own depths, but by God's own self-revelation to our hearts.

2) He wants them to know the power of God at work in them. God does not make promises he cannot keep. God's "I will . . ." is as good as done. His power toward us is, after all, the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in a place of heavenly rule, eternal sovereignty. And so if Christ is for us, what matter who comes against us? God's power is immeasurable power. God is fully capable. He will finish what he started, for he cannot lie, he cannot fail, and he does not grow weary. In Christ we have overcome the world!

"For everyone that is born of God overcomes the world, and this is the victory that has overcome--our faith." 1 John 5:4 [ESV]


John Wesley's Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put met to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by you or laid aside by you,
enabled for you or brought low by you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
you are mine, and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.


The Down Payment

I think everybody yearns for significance, don't you? They yearn for their day-to-day life to have meaning. A couple of years back I wrote a whimsical prose-poem about this. It was called Providence: A Story (and a Question). Some people responded to it by saying, "Yeah, that's exactly how I feel sometimes." Others, by saying, "Huh?" But the point is, we don't live random lives, caught up in a meaningless whirl of activity that has no permanent significance. When we pray that God would use us for his Kingdom purposes (and I hope that's what you're praying), we are saying we want to be part of a bigger picture than that which the eye alone can see, and that God would be glorified through us.

As I said yesterday, we want to see ourselves as part of a larger story. And it's the message of the Gospel that, in fact, we are. God is working his plan, even through us, his children. It's a scary thought sometimes, for we know we're not "qualified." Still, we pray, we yearn, we cry out. And the Spirit, in the providence of God, equips, encourages, guides, etc. This is not something we are simply to take on faith, but to experience. God wants us to be actors in this great play of his, and he's even assigned us our roles.
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 1 Cor 12:8-11
And what's the result? Not that we are noticed and praised for our gifts, but that God, the gift-giver, is praised. People feel they have stepped into the big picture, they have gained an eternal perspective, they have seen great things, and all to the praise of God's glorious grace.

In my opinion, it is the burden of any great poem, story, song, painting, or film to give just this perspective. Naysayers will say it's just a comforting illusion. Believers, the power of God. Evidence on our behalf is the Holy Spirit, proving to us that this hope we profess is no children's tale, this "eternal perspective" no wishful dream.

There has been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere lately about cessationism vs. "charismatism." For what it's worth, I stand with the latter. God did not pour out the Spirit temporarily. The downpayement spoken of by Paul is not given only to one generation, only to be withheld (or severely restricted) from all others. As Gordon Fee has said, we do not worship a Trinity made up of the Father, the Son, and the Bible.



I'm thinking about grace this morning. Nothing new there. Grace, the grace of God, is the undercurrent of this life. It is well, it is healthy, to meditate on God's grace.

The Greek word, as every Christian surely knows, is charis. I looked it up in Crosswalk's Greek Lexicon, and I found this:
1.a. that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness
Don't you like that? Makes you think of Philippians 4:8, doesn't it?
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
The second definition of charis was "good will, loving-kindness, favour." And then this:
of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues
"Kindles them to the exercise of Christian virtues." That's a beautiful phrase, isn't it? And are you kindled? Am I kindled? And just what are these "Christian virtues" after all? Well, Galatians 5:22 provides a brief list:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
These are the fruit of the Spirit, but it is as true to say that they are our response to the grace of God. Which leads us to the third definition of grace: "that which is due to grace."
a. the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace
b. the token or proof of grace, benefit
In Ephesians 1, which I've been reading and rereading for the past few days, Paul says over and over that the gifts of God are intended to result in "the praise of his glorious grace." Read it, and you'll see that everything about the plan and purpose of God is intended to result in praise. You will not have to stop and consider whether or not God should be praised. You will not have to worry that someone else might think you a little strange, a little over-the-top, a little "happy-clappy." You will not have to be careful that your theology is perfectly correct, you will simply respond to the awesome splendor of his grace with praise of the Gracious One.


Living Grace

John Van Devender of Gadfly's Muse has a wonderful post called Paralyzed by Grace. That phrase, "paralyzed by grace," is from Dallas Willard, who happens to be someone I respect a great deal. In a recent interview in Leadership Magazine, Willard said, "People need to see that action is a receptacle for grace, not a substitute for it. Grace is God acting in our lives to do things we can't do on our own."

I really like Willard's phrase, "action is a receptacle for grace." But not just any action, of course. The grace of God is ultimately transformative. We grow increasingly conformed to the image of Christ, and this results in transformed action. Or one might say, "Not I live, but Christ lives in me." It is a high claim and can seem presumptuous, but it is God's goal for his children. Our actions can be flesh-born and flesh-centered, or they can be Christ-born and Christ-centered.

John's musings on this subject are very helpful. He writes:
[T]here is a widespread Christian pessimism about what we should expect from Christ in this life. Though we pastors are generally quite able to point people toward the hope that is yet to come, we tend to fall short in preaching and proclaiming the reality of the transforming grace a Christian ought to experience in this life. We leave the average pew-filler with the vague idea that being a Christian consists pretty much in thinking, living and going along in life as other non-Christian people do, except that we have an extra little closet called Christian Spirituality where we keep our Sunday Go-To-Meeting /Bible-Study/ Talk-With-Other-Christian clothes.
Ultimately, we want to see clearly, don't we? We want to see ourselves in the great story of God's restorative plan for creation. We want to be used, today, tomorrow, in whatever way God chooses. We want to be available. But this needs faith. Otherwise, we try to accomplish it in our own power. In truth we do not really ever surrender, not fully, to one in whom we do not fully trust. John writes, "I define 'faith' as that habit of mind and thought such that we see all of creation and ourselves within creation, in terms of Jesus Christ and in terms of His Kingdom. By this definition, every aspect of our lives is understood through the lens of Christ and His Kingdom."

Given that kind of "seeing," we can truly begin to perceive our own place in what God is up to from one moment to the next. We can "get in the game," living the grace of God, not just wistfully recalling it.


A Comment about Comments

I've decided to disable "word verification" on this blog, but to enable "comment moderation." What this means is that you won't have to re-type those annoying "words" like ajpxfl or the ever-popular fzqdbg. But it also means that your comments will not appear promptly, but will be sent to me (Herr Moderator) for approval.

The whole point of all this is to prevent evil spam. But the problem with word-verifcation, I suspect, is that it actually discourages comments. That's bad. So I'll try moderation instead, which, as I've often heard, is a good policy "in all things."

So . . . comment away!

Before the Foundation

I've changed things up in my morning quiet time. For the past year I've been reading through the Bible, morning by morning, according to the M'Cheyne reading plan. That was an exciting process, a "grand tour," but now I feel the need to settle into a single book for a while, read it over and over, journal it, memorize passages, dwell in it. Have you ever tried this sort of thing? I've done so on only a few occasions, but it has been very rewarding.

I've chosen Paul's letter to the Ephesians as my place to dwell, and have spent these first few days in chapter 1, verses 3 to 10. Amazing stuff! Talk about "grand tour," in this short passage Paul speaks of what was in the plan and purpose of God from "before the foundations of the world." That plan was to restore his creation, which he knew would "fall," and to reunite it to himself forever.

And all this hinges upon Christ. The transformation of "all things" from cursed to blessed, from unholy to holy, from sinful to blameless, all this hinges upon Christ. The whole plan is said to be "in Christ." We are said to have redemption and freedom "through his blood." Christ's "fullness of time" coming was the consummation of a plan that was hatched in the Trinity even before the creation took place. And this plan involved, amazingly, the "choosing" of those who would be saved.

Think of this a moment. God's plan for creation included a knowledge that rebellion and sin would enter in, provoking a necessary separation (a "great divorce") between God and man, who had been intended as the very pinnacle of the plan. But before He ever set the plan in motion, before the construction project of creation had even begun, one member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, volunteered himself to be the vehicle for the restoration of all this fallen creation to its intended perfection.

And here's the thing: that plan included you, if you have believed on Jesus. Think of it. From the beginning God took account of the rebellion, made a way of salvation nevertheless possible through Jesus Christ, and out of many generations chose those individuals whom he would include in this great plan of restoration. So, to put it another way, in the perfection of the Godhead, before ever the created universe was set in motion, the plan was hatched to save many. And Jesus said, "I will go on their behalf. I will do what is necessary. I will take on mortality, I will bear the violent malice of evil men, I will face down the devil and take the wrath for sin, I will even endure separation from the Father, for the sake of [insert name here]." And all this, I emphasize, before God had ever said, "Let there be light."

I stand in awe.


Grace: The Greatest Word

Now that I've finished reading The Glory of God's Grace, by James Montgomery Boice, I'm more convinced than ever that grace is the finest word in the English language, and that God's grace truly is a worthy subject for a lifetime of contemplation. The only appropriate response to such wonderful largesse is, to be perfectly trite, an attitude of gratitude (and hoopla, too).

Each chapter of Boice's book is a meditation on God's grace, seen through the prism of one or more key grace-verses. What I want to do this morning is simply recapitulate for you a short passage near the end of the book, entitled, "Growth in Grace." We have received grace (John 1:16), and we stand in grace even now (Romans 5:2), but just what does it mean to "grow in grace." (2Peter 3:18)

In answer to that question, Boice offers 4 Biblical replies.
1. We need to be settled in the great grace doctrines.
2. We need to grow in the knowledge of God's grace.
3. We need to exercise the gift for serving others that God has given each of us.
4. We need a continuing supply of grace in order to grow in grace and thus complete the work assigned to us.
I don't have time unpack all of this for you, but I do want to look closely at the first of these, which discusses the idea of being "settled in grace."

There are, Boice tells us, several ways that one can fail to be settled in grace.
1. We can allow something other than Jesus Christ to be at the center of our lives. [Jonah 2:8 NIV]
2. We can forget how gracious God has been and thus become harsh with others. [Hebrews 12:15]
3. We can substitute the mere form of Christianity for the Gospel. [Hebrews 13:9]
And Boice concludes:
The cure for these multifaceted ills is to be so aware of the nature of the grace of God in saving us that we become enamored of Jesus Christ and never forget that it is by grace alone that we have been brought out of death and darkness into God's marvelous light.
[All Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.]

My Bonnie Blogging Boy

Eight Strings: Nate is blogging his adventures as a young teacher's assistant in a primary school in North Carolina: read Mrs. W's Class and Mayonaise. Very amusing.


Google Print

The beta version of Google Print is up and running. As everyone has heard by now, Google has been busy digitalizing old books from the NY Public Library and elsewhere. They've done 10,000 books so far, and unless someone stops them in court, there appears to be no end in sight!

Do a keyword search, and Google provides an image of the specific pages of books in which your keyword appears. For example, I searched for the phrase "persevering grace," and got 58 results. Among them, p. 163 of Ryken's The Doctrines of Grace, p. 245 of Boice's The Glory of God's Grace, p. 84 of Oden's The Justification Reader, etc.

It's a fascinating project, but quite controversial. A lot of library-types (my cohort) think Google is evil itself, but I'm not so sure. Many say this project will be a great boon to authors, encouraging sales. Anyway, I would encourage everyone to have a look. I expect to have lots and lots of fun with this.

Boice on Persevering Grace

Boice speaks of that day when we will stand before the Father. We will have persevered only because He persevered. His grace toward us was a persevering grace, a grace that will not be withdrawn or turned aside, but will continue unto the great day. Boice writes,
[A]nd then he shall look upon us and be pleased with what he sees. He will say when he looks at us, "It has all been worthwhile. It was good for me to have sent my Son to die on that cross, suffering the pain, agony, and torment of the crucifixion to save this sinner from his sins. He is what I wanted to make him. He is like my Son. I am satisfied. I am well-pleased." When we hear that, we will be well pleased, too. And far from taking glory to ourselves for what has happened, we will glorify him who in that way glorified us.
From The Glory of God's Grace, p 244.


On Prayer

James Montgomery Boice imagines the Devil's attitude toward the American church:
You Americans are so religious. You have big churches and large budgets. You have so many great religious works. But do you think I care about your big churches and large budgets and many religious works? I have no fear of them at all, as long as you are not praying. In fact, I will even use them to keep you from praying. Ha! Ha! Ha! Build your great church plants. Raise your millions. Start your great evangelistic enterprises. Launch your social programs. They will accomplish no more of lasting spiritual value than the work of secular agencies, and in time I will control them, too, as long as you are not praying. Do you think I fear you? The only one I fear is God, and the only power I fear is his power, which is released through prayer.
from The Glory of God's Grace (p. 188)


Alive to God in Christ Jesus

The Glory of God's Grace is a wonderful book. Boice is a teacher in the mode of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and J. I. Packer, one who in not interested in filtering the Bible through his own personal lens, but in seeing it and explaining it, as best he can, whole and clear.

In dealing with Romans 6:11, Boice lists 5 aspects of the alive-to-God life.

1. We have been reconciled to God. Before, we were subject to the wrath of God, living a downward spiral of sin and death. We were not alive to God, because we either did not acknowledge him or feared him. Now, he has become our friend.

2. We have become new creatures in Christ. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." [2Cor 5:17-18] Now the Word of God is intensely interesting to us, now the worship of God is our heart's desire, now prayer and witnessing and works of service, which once had seemed ludicrous and lifeless, are our "chief delight."

3. We are freed from sin's bondage. Before, we were slaves to sin. We were non posses non peccare("not able to not sin"). Now, we are posse no peccare ("able not to sin"). We can achieve real victories.

4. We are pressing forward to a sure destiny and new goals. Before, Boice writes, "we were trapped by the world and by its time-bound, evil horizons. Being saved, we know that we are now destined for an eternity of fellowship and bliss with God." But now we can echo Paul with fervor:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [Phil. 3:12-14, ESV]
5. We can no longer be satisfied with the world's weak offerings. "To be sure, the world never did really satisfy us. The world, which is finite, can never adequately fill beings who are made with an infinite capacity for fellowship with and enjoyment of God. But we thought the world and its values were satisfying. We expected to be filled." But now we are different. We see things in a new light. "The tangible things no longer have any hold on us. We have died to them, and in their place we have been made alive to God, who is intangible, invisible, eternal, and of grater reality and substance than anything we can imagine." In this world, we are but pilgrims.

Like most Bible truths, these five aspects of the new life in Christ are both inspiring and convicting. We sense the truth of these things, and at times we have experienced the reality, but we are aware also that we so often fall woefully short. The things of this world still entangle us, don't they? Grace is as necessary to us now in our new lives as it was then, in our old. This is the dilemma of the Christian. Hear the words of James Montgomery Boice and consider them carefully:
Some people try to find the key in an intense emotional experience, thinking that if only they can make themselves feel close to God, they will become holy. Others try to find sanctification through a special formula or methodology. They think that if they do certain things or follow a certain prescribed ritual, they will become holy. But Godliness does not come in that way, and in fact, approaches like these are deceiving. A holy life comes from knowing,--I stress that word--knowing that you can't go back, that you have died to sin and been made alive to God. You are no more able to go back to your old life than an adult to his childhood. ... There is no way to go but forward.