Daily Archives: January 24, 2018

January 24 Receiving Spiritual Enlightenment

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Eph. 1:18).

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Spiritual enlightenment doesn’t come through self-effort or introspective meditation but through God’s Holy Spirit.

Our society has been enamored with the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, especially since the influx of Eastern thought into the West during the 1960s. Now we are drowning in a sea of false religions and New Age philosophies.

True enlightenment continues to elude many because they have denied its source and have turned to gurus and teachers who have no light to give. They propagate self-effort and introspective meditation, but spiritual enlightenment doesn’t come through such means. It comes only through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14–16). That’s why Paul prayed that God Himself would enlighten the hearts of the Ephesian believers (Eph. 1:18).

We might expect Paul to pray for enlightened minds rather than hearts, but that’s because we associate the word heart with emotions rather than with thought. But in Hebrew and Greek thinking, the heart was considered the seat of knowledge, thinking, and understanding. For example, Jesus said that evil thoughts come out of the heart (Matt. 15:19). Emotions are important, but they must be guided and controlled by an enlightened mind.

How does the Spirit enlighten you? As you pray and study God’s Word, He transforms and renews your mind (Rom. 12:2) by filling you with “the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9). He teaches you to recognize and uphold what is excellent so that you will be “sincere and blameless” before God (Phil. 1:10). He implants Biblical truth into your thinking so that your responses become more and more like Christ’s.

How wonderful to know that each moment of the day God is working within you in such a way. Be diligent to pray and spend time in the Word so that your spiritual progress will be evident to all (1 Tim. 4:15).

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Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for the Spirit’s transforming work within you. ✧ Reaffirm your love for Him, and express your willingness to be changed by His Spirit in any way He sees fit. ✧ Be alert for attitudes or actions that need to be changed. Rely on His grace and strength in doing so.

For Further Study: Read Genesis 27–33, noting how God used the events of Jacob’s life to transform his weak spiritual commitment to one that was strong and unconditional (see especially Gen. 28:20–22; 32:9–12).[1]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 36). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Repent and Believe

Code: B180124

 

Unbelievers should tremble at the immense holiness of God. The reality of their sin should frighten and sicken them. And the redemptive work of Christ should thrill them to the core.

Together the truth of those biblical doctrines should provoke a desperate question in the sinner’s heart. It’s the same question that plagued those who heard Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost: “They were pierced to the heart, and said . . . ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37).

The truth of the gospel demands a response from the sinner. Passive indifference isn’t an option. Either unbelievers will reject the facts of the gospel, carrying on with their rebellious lives, or they will desperately cry out for the salvation found only in Christ.

And just as vital as knowing the facts of the gospel, God’s people need to thoroughly understand the response to the gospel that His Word demands. Confusion on this detail—as much as any other point of gospel truth—is a significant hindrance to the church’s evangelistic efforts today.

Scripture makes no mention of walking an aisle, praying a prayer, or signing a card. In fact, God’s Word never points back to an isolated event or an emotional decision for assurance of salvation. There is no biblical basis for that kind of decisional regeneration. Moreover, Jesus isn’t knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart, hoping he will let Him in. He doesn’t need sinful man’s acceptance—we actually need His!

Instead, the gospel call to the sinner throughout Scripture is a simple, succinct command—repent and believe. If we are to faithfully and accurately proclaim the gospel, our message must culminate in a call for the sinner to put his faith in Christ and repent from his sin.

Faith

True saving faith is the sinner recognizing his own hopeless condition and trusting Christ as his righteous and sacrificial substitute—the only possible means of escape from God’s just wrath.

The apostle Paul referred to the gospel as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). In his commentary on that passage, John MacArthur writes,

Salvation is not merely professing to be a Christian, nor is it baptism, moral reform, going to church, receiving sacraments, or living a life of self-discipline and sacrifice. Salvation is believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Salvation comes through giving up on one’s own goodness, works, knowledge, and wisdom and trusting in the finished, perfect work of Christ. [1]

There’s nothing sinners can do to gain a right relationship with God—Paul made that very point in Ephesians 2:8-9. “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (emphasis added). Not only does God provide the means of salvation, He bestows the very ability to lay hold of that salvation through faith in His Son.

That call to believe in the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ rings out in the words of the evangelists in the New Testament. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, a high-ranking Jewish scholar, He pointed out “that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). When the Philippian jailer cried out to Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” they responded, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Paul wrote that God is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). John’s specific purpose for writing his gospel was “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

God’s Word is clear: Salvation apart from faith in Christ is impossible. As Peter and John declared under trial before the Sanhedrin, “There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Repentance

From an evangelistic perspective, it is critically important to distinguish true saving faith from mere mental assent. Faith is not simply an acknowledgment of Christ; it is an active dependence on Him, borne out in the life of the believer in the form of repentance.

Scripture often refers to faith and repentance in tandem, and the two correspond closely in the life of the believer. Turning away from sin in repentance is the natural extension of turning to Christ in faith.

At the same time, there is an important distinction between the two. In his book The Gospel According to Jesus, John MacArthur explains that repentance should never be dismissed as merely another word for belief:

The Greek word for “repentance” is metanoia . . . Literally it means “afterthought” or “change of mind,” but biblically its meaning does not stop there. As metanoia is used in the New Testament, it always speaks of a change of purpose, and specifically a turning from sin. In the sense Jesus used it, repentance calls for a repudiation of the old life and a turning to God for salvation.

Such a change of purpose is what Paul had in mind when he described the repentance of the Thessalonians: “You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). [2]

Throughout Scripture we see the call to repent from sin and turn to God. Christ warned His followers of the eternal consequences of sinful rebellion, saying “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). Paul concluded his sermon on Mars Hill with a command to repent in light of God’s judgment. “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:30–31).

Some argue that calling sinners to repent is adding works to the gospel. But God’s Word is clear that true repentance cannot be mustered up from the unregenerate soul. Instead, like faith, repentance is a gift from God (cf. Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25).

Repentant Faith

It is crucial for the biblical evangelist to understand and clearly communicate the vital relationship between faith and repentance, particularly in the current theological landscape.

Throughout church history, there have been those who preached a gospel of easy-believism and cheap grace—one that required no repentance on the part of the converts. That pseudo-gospel is thriving in churches today, giving false assurance of faith to people who have no interest in obedience, holiness, or sanctification. This unbiblical notion of faith apart from repentance would be laughable if it weren’t tragically leading deceived men and women to hell.

In The Gospel According to Jesus, John MacArthur explains the corresponding nature between true faith and repentance.

Clearly, the biblical concept of faith must lead to obedience. “Believe” is treated as if it were synonymous with “obey” in John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life.” Acts 6:7 shows how salvation was understood in the early church: “A great many . . . were becoming obedient to the faith.” Obedience is so closely related to saving faith that Hebrews 5:9 uses it as a synonym: “Having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.”

Obedience is the inevitable manifestation of true faith. Paul recognized this when he wrote to Titus about “those who are defiled and unbelieving. . . . They profess to know God but by their deeds they deny Him” (Titus 1:15–16). To Paul, their perpetual disobedience proved their disbelief. Their actions denied God more loudly than their words proclaimed him. This is characteristic of unbelief, not faith, for true faith always produces righteous works. As the Reformers were fond of saying, we are justified by faith alone, but justifying faith is never alone. [3]

The biblical testimony is clear. The gospel call is a call to repent and believe. You can’t have one without the other, and you can’t do either without God empowering those responses.

If we are to faithfully proclaim the message of salvation, we must establish the problem of God’s holiness in contrast to man’s depravity. We must present the solution to that humanly insurmountable problem by preaching the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is at that point that we are to issue the exhortation to repent and believe, and leave the miraculous work of conversion in God’s sovereign hands.


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Carnal Christian

“The doctrine of the carnal Christian[32] has destroyed more lives and sent more people to hell than you can imagine! Do Christians struggle with sin? Yes. Can a Christian fall into sin? Absolutely. Can a Christian live in a continuous state of carnality all the days of his life, not bearing fruit, and truly be Christian? Absolutely not !—or every promise in the Old Testament regarding the New Testament covenant of preservation has failed, and everything God said about discipline in Hebrews is a lie (Heb 12:6)! “A tree is known by its fruit” (Luk 6:44).”

― Paul David Washer
Ten Indictments against the Modern Church

Moody blues

(World Magazine – Paul Butler & Marvin Olasky) Financial errors, insider dealings, and theological concerns force a change at an evangelical powerhouse

The story sounds like something out of a movie.

In 2017, a talk show host on the Moody Radio Network blows the whistle on the leadership of one of American evangelicalism’s flagship institutions, the Moody Bible Institute (MBI). On Jan. 9, 2018, she escalates the pressure with a hard-hitting headline on her blog: “A Luxury Suite, Questionable Loan to Officer, & Gambling: The Disturbing Truth About Leadership at MBI.” Moody within hours fires her and sends a man to her house to seize her laptop—but she is on her way to Mexico, with the computer.

The next day, though, Moody’s board of trustees meets and decides it’s time for “a new season of leadership.” President Paul Nyquist and COO Steve Mogck resign. Provost Junias Venugopal retires. And whistleblower Julie Roys reports the board’s action. She tells WORLD she’s “grieved over what’s happened” to MBI, glad about the resignations and retirement, but convinced that “unless there are changes at the board level, the Institute will be in the exact same place 5-10 years from now.”

So, even though the saga is not over, the Moody board’s action is still a man-bites-dog story within the usually slow-moving world of higher education. As the news spread, Christian leaders asked questions: What are MBI’s problems? What forced the hand of the board, and where does Moody go from here? Is the drama likely to be repeated at other institutions as financial and theological pressures grow? WORLD had been investigating MBI during the weeks before the board decision, and we have some findings to report.

COLLEGES LIVE OR DIE ON STUDENT ENROLLMENT. From 2012 to 2017, the number of students applying to MBI fell from 1,316 to 947—a 28 percent drop. MBI for more than a century has emphasized theological education for students who desire to enter full-time vocational ministry: “Those are the students we still give priority to,” said James Spencer, vice president and dean of Moody’s undergraduate school. Today, though, many young Christians look to secular careers and speak of ministering informally within their professions.

Professors are a college’s front line. Facing the enrollment downturn, President Nyquist last December announced a layoff of “about 10 percent of Moody Global Ministries personnel.” But the faculty was disproportionately hard-hit: 34 of MBI’s 112 full-time faculty members, almost one-third, learned their contracts would not be renewed. (MBI does not give professors tenure.) “Education is certainly about the faculty,” Spencer acknowledged, so Nyquist’s attempt to minimize the extent of the body count by saying “10 percent” did not go over well. View article →

Source: Moody blues

The Roman Catholic ‘Mother Mary’ Deception and The Destruction of Souls

(Soul Refuge) Do you remember the time when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray?

“And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. ”  (Luke 11:1-2)

Did the Lord tell his disciples to pray “Our Mother which art in Heaven” or did he tell them to pray “Our Father which art in Heaven”? Can you find the Lord Jesus Christ ever telling his followers to pray a “Hail Mary” prayer?  Can you ever find the Lord Jesus Christ encouraging his followers to build a shrine to his earthly mother Mary? Of course, you will not find any of this stuff in the scriptures, so why do people do these things? The bottom line is that they have accepted and believed the words of mere men (man-made tradition) over the scriptures (the Word of God). It is of the utmost importance that people search the scriptures for themselves, as the Bereans did so that they may know the truth that can set them free.

“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”  (Acts 17:10-11)

When you place the words of mere men (man-made tradition), above the word of God, you are setting yourself up for spiritual deception, and the ultimate destruction of your very soul. I am writing here as a former Roman Catholic who was delivered out of the system of Roman Catholicism, and if you are a Roman Catholic I encourage you to leave that system also. I prayed my Hail Mary prayers like any other Roman Catholic would until the time that I was saved and born again of the Spirit of God in 1989. Here is one of the first scriptures that I learned regarding how to pray and who to pray to:

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;”  (1 Timothy 2:5)

The scriptures make it clear that there is only ONE mediator between God and men, and that is the person of Jesus Christ. There are no other mediators whom God will hear because Jesus is the one whom the Father sent down from Heaven above. Jesus Christ had the audacity to do things that only God could do because he was equal to the Father above. Here is a record of the time when Jesus healed a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years, and one day Jesus told the guy to take up his bed and walk, and that is exactly what the man did. That absolutely infuriated the enemies of Christ, and they let him know that in no uncertain terms.

“Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole. And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.”  (John 5:12-18)

Did you notice the part where it said that the enemies of Jesus Christ sought to kill him because he made himself equal with God? There was another time when Jesus healed a man who was paralyzed, and once again the religious Jewish leaders were absolutely infuriated by what he did.

“And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them. And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him. And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to day.”  (Luke 5:17-26)

Did you catch the part where the Jewish Pharisees became infuriated after Jesus Christ forgave the paralyzed man of his sins? They were correct in saying that only God could forgive sins, but they did not believe that Jesus Christ was equal to God, and that is why they were so angry at Christ. So what did Jesus do? Jesus basically told them that I am going to heal this man just to show you that I do have the power to forgive sins, (which only God can do) and that is exactly what he did! I say all of this so that I may point you to Jesus Christ alone. I want you to know that I have not prayed to Mary since the Lord saved my soul out of that gross and demonic deception. I am here to tell you that Jesus Christ is enough. If you are a Roman Catholic, you are reading this article by divine appointment and I encourage you to search the scriptures for yourself, to see if what I am preaching here today is true or not.   View article →

See our Research Paper of the Roman Catholic Church

Source: The Roman Catholic ‘Mother Mary’ Deception and The Destruction of Souls

January 24 Wednesday: A Messianic Wedding Song

By James Boice on Jan 24, 2018 12:00 am

The King’s military victories. Though expressed in graphic battle language, we must remember that the victories of Jesus during his lifetime and in this present age are not military conquests but victories won on behalf of “truth, humility and righteousness” (v. 4). This was the way Jesus triumphed during his earthly ministry. From a purely physical point of view Jesus’ enemies were victorious, since they succeeded in having him condemned and executed. But in terms of truth, humility and righteousness, Jesus won, since he upheld these characteristics in his person and conduct, even when he was being unjustly treated.

Read more…

JANUARY 24 WALKING A TIGHTROPE BETWEEN TWO KINGDOMS?

…For I do always those things that please him.

JOHN 8:29

We who follow Christ are aware of the fact that we inhabit at once two worlds, the spiritual and the natural. As children of Adam we do live our lives on earth subject to the limitations of the flesh and the weaknesses and ills to which human nature is heir.

In sharp contrast to this is our life in the Spirit. There we enjoy a higher kind of life; we are children of God. We possess heavenly status and enjoy intimate fellowship with Christ!

This tends to divide our total life into two departments, as we unconsciously recognize two sets of actions, the so-called secular acts and the sacred.

This is, of course, the old “sacred-secular” antithesis and most Christians are caught in its trap. Walking the tightrope between two kingdoms they find no peace in either.

Actually, the sacred-secular dilemma has no foundation in the New Testament. Without doubt a more perfect understanding of Christian truth will deliver us from it.

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is our perfect example and He lived no divided life. God accepted the offering of His total life and made no distinction between act and act. “I do always the things that please Him” was His brief summary of His own life as related to the Father. We are called upon to exercise an aggressive faith, in which we offer all our acts to God and believe that He accepts them. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there![1]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

January 24, 2018 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Guarantee of Our Inheritance

you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, (1:13b–14a)

Men have always wanted assurances. Because the promises of other men are so often unreliable, we demand oaths, sworn affidavits, surety bonds, guarantees, warranties, and many other such means of trying to assure that what is promised is received.

God’s simple word should be sufficient for us, but in His graciousness He makes His promises even more certain—if that were possible—by giving us His own guarantees. Here the Lord guarantees His promises with His seal and with His pledge. This is reminiscent of Hebrews 6:13–18, in which God gives His promise of blessing and then confirms it with an oath to provide what the Holy Spirit calls “strong encouragement” (v. 18) to all who hope in Christ.

god’s seal

Because we do not directly and immediately receive the fullness of all God’s promises when we first believe (since it is “reserved in heaven for us,” 1 Pet. 1:3–4), we may sometimes be tempted to doubt our salvation and wonder about the ultimate blessings that are supposed to accompany it. While we are still in this life our redemption is not complete, because we still await “the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23). Because we have not yet received full possession of our inheritance, we may question its reality or at least its greatness.

As one means of guaranteeing His promises to those who have received Jesus Christ, God has sealed [them] in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise. Every believer is given the very Holy Spirit of God the moment he trusts in Christ. “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you,” Paul declares (Rom. 8:9a). Conversely, he goes on to say, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (v. 9b). Incredibly, the body of every true Christian is actually “a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in [him]” (1 Cor. 6:19).

When a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in his life. Life in Jesus Christ is different because the Spirit of God is now within. He is there to empower us, equip us for ministry, and function through the gifts He has given us. The Holy Spirit is our Helper and Advocate. He protects and encourages us. He also guarantees our inheritance in Jesus Christ. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17). The Spirit of God is our securing force, our guarantee.

The sealing of which Paul speaks here refers to an official mark of identification that was placed on a letter, contract, or other important document. The seal usually was made from hot wax, which was placed on the document and then impressed with a signet ring. The document was thereby officially identified with and under the authority of the person to whom the signet belonged.

That is the idea behind our being sealed in Him [Christ] with the Holy Spirit of promise. The seal of God’s Spirit in the believer signifies four primary things: security, authenticity, ownership, and authority.

Security. In ancient times the seal of a king, prince, or noble represented security and inviolability. When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, King Darius, along with his nobles, placed their seals on the stone placed over the entrance to the den, “so that nothing might be changed in regard to Daniel” (Dan. 6:17). Any person but the king who broke or disturbed that seal would likely have forfeited his life. In a similar way the tomb where Jesus was buried was sealed. Fearing that Jesus’ disciples might steal His body and falsely claim His resurrection, the Jewish leaders obtained Pilate’s permission to place a seal on the stone and to guard it with soldiers (Matt. 27:62–66).

In an infinitely greater way, the Holy Spirit secures each believer, marking him with His own inviolable seal.

Authenticity. When King Ahab tried unsuccessfully to get Naboth to sell or trade his vineyard, Queen Jezebel volunteered to get the vineyard her way. “So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal” and sent the letters to various nobles who lived in Naboth’s city, demanding that they arrange false accusations of blasphemy and treason against him. The nobles did as they were instructed, and Naboth was stoned to death because of the false charges. The king then simply confiscated the vineyard he had so strongly coveted (1 Kings 21:6–16). Despite the deceptions contained in the letters Jezebel sent, the letters themselves were authentically from the king, because they were sent with his approval and marked with his seal. The seal was his signature.

When God gives us His Holy Spirit, it is as if He stamps us with a seal that reads, “This person belongs to Me and is an authentic citizen of My divine kingdom and member of My divine family.”

Ownership. While Jerusalem was under seige by Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah was under arrest by King Zedekiah for prophesying against the king and the nation, the Lord gave special instructions to His prophet. Jeremiah was told to buy some land in Anathoth for which he had redemption rights. The contract was agreed on, and the stipulated payment was made in the court of the palace guard before the required number of witnesses. In the presence of the witnesses the deed was signed and sealed, establishing Jeremiah as the new legal owner of the property (Jer. 32:10).

When the Holy Spirit seals believers, He marks them as God’s divine possessions, who from that moment on entirely and eternally belong to Him. The Spirit’s seal declares the transaction of salvation as divinely official and final.

Authority. Even after Haman had been hanged for his wicked plot to defame and execute Mordecai, Queen Esther was distressed about the decree that Haman had persuaded King Ahasuerus to make that permitted anyone in his kingdom to attack and destroy the Jews. Because the king could not even himself revoke the decree that was marked with his own seal, he issued and sealed another decree that permitted and even encouraged the Jews to arm and defend themselves (Esther 8:8–12). In both cases the absolute authority of the decrees was represented in the king’s seal. Those who possessed the sealed decree of the king had the king’s delegated authority set forth in the decree.

When Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit they are delegated to proclaim, teach, minister, and defend God’s Word and His gospel with the Lord’s own authority.

god’s pledge

who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, (1:14a)

The Holy Spirit not only guarantees our inheritance in Jesus Christ with His seal but also with His pledge. An arrabōn (pledge) originally referred to a down payment or earnest money given to secure a purchase. Later it came to represent any sort of pledge or earnest. A form of the word even came to be used for engagement ring.

As believers, we have the Holy Spirit as the divine pledge of our inheritance, God’s first installment of His guarantee that the fullness of the promised spiritual blessings “in the heavenly places in Christ” (v. 3) will one day be completely fulfilled. They are assured and guaranteed with an absolute certainty that only God could provide. The Holy Spirit is the church’s irrevocable pledge, her divine engagement ring, as it were, that, as Christ’s bride, she will never be neglected or forsaken (cf. 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5).

The Goal of Our Inheritance

with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (1:14b)

Although our divine inheritance in Christ is a marvelous, awesome, and guaranteed promise to us from the Lord, it is not the primary purpose of our salvation. Our salvation and all of the promises, blessings, and privileges we gain through salvation are first of all bestowed with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

The great, overriding purpose of God’s redemption of men is the rescuing of what is His own possession. All creation belongs to God, and in His infinite wisdom, love, and grace He chose to provide redemption for the fallen creatures He had made in His own image—for His own sake even more than for their sakes, because they do not belong to themselves but to Him.

As Paul has already twice declared (vv. 6, 12), God’s ultimate goal in redeeming men is the praise of His glory. We are not saved and blessed for our own glory but for God’s (cf. Isa. 43:20–21). When we glorify ourselves we rob God of that which is wholly His. He saved us to serve Him and to praise Him. We are saved to be restored to the intended divine purpose of creation—to bear the image of God and bring Him greater glory.

This is fully accomplished at the believer’s glorification, when we receive full glory and redemption and are made the perfect possession of God.[1]


His Present Faithfulness (1:13)

After recounting God’s purpose for “we [Jews] who were the first to hope in Christ,” the apostle speaks to the Ephesian Gentiles and says, “And you also were included in Christ” (Eph. 1:13). Whereas the earlier portion of this passage was the “we who …” section, this is the “you, too” section.

Expanding His Covenant (1:13a)

“In Christ” we were chosen and you, too, were included, says the apostle. The plan that was worked through the Jews to glorify Christ has now been extended to other nations. In the Greek both verses 11 (focusing on Jewish believers) and 13 (focusing on Gentile believers) begin the same way: “In him also.” Both Jew and Gentile are found to be “in Christ” (also see Eph. 1:12). This says much about how Paul conceived of the nature of salvation, of the Christian life, and of the covenantal promises to the Jewish nation extended to the Gentiles. This co-inclusion in Christ also serves as a theological basis for Paul’s argument that Jews and Gentiles now are fellow members of the body of Christ (see Eph. 2:13–22).

The plan “to bring all things … together under one head, even Christ” (Eph. 1:10) is being worked out in this present age. This is Paul’s reason for using the continuing present tense to say that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11). God’s plan is for the present age, our time. We who hear the gospel now are as much in God’s purpose of bringing praise to Christ as were the Jews. From the beginning God purposed to work everything together in order to bring all things under the headship of Christ. This includes past and present, heaven and earth, Jew and Gentile (as is stated more explicitly in Eph. 3:6).

Extending His Mercy (1:13b)

God’s involvement of “all things” in his plan is more than an expansion of the covenant; it is an extension of mercy. What did the Jews do to be the chosen people? Nothing. God’s blessing was based in his mercy, not on their merit. And what do Gentiles now have to do to qualify for this mercy and be granted the same privileged status as the covenant people?

Will Gentiles have to swim seven seas, perform feats of great sacrifice, or read a hundred books? No. The apostle’s language is very precise. “You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13). The Gentiles’ inclusion does not even rest on their doing what the Jews were supposed to do. But simply hearing—actually having the ears to hear and really hearing—the gospel marked these Gentiles as those included in the covenant. Note that they could not have heard spiritually, if God had not already worked in their hearts and tuned them to receive his Word (John 6:44, 65). Truly hearing the message of God’s mercy was itself a sign of inclusion in the covenant before anything else had been, or could be, done.

This unconditional covenant inclusion is a great mercy. The greatness can be comprehended only by remembering the pagan context of the Ephesians’ world. Human pride, false morality, and deceitful idolatry all thrived in Ephesus. For God to call people from this place his own before they had done anything to qualify for his love is a sign of great grace—of God’s willingness to be faithful in the face of great human frailty and sin. And thus, just as Paul can say that it was for “the praise of his [God’s] glory” that those who first believed were from the Jews, the least distinguished of the peoples of the world (Eph. 1:12), so also when Paul concludes his thought about the Ephesians, he says that their inclusion in Christ is likewise to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:14). Christ is glorified both because more persons are subject to him and also because his caring for them signals the wonders of his mercy.

There are many ways that these truths apply to us. First, there is the big picture: if we are included in Christ, then we are part of the eternal plan that began with the covenant people of old. All things are being worked out so that we, too, will be for the praise of his glory. Everything is being worked out for our good and his glory.

Second, there is a big mercy. More are being included who do not get everything right. We are part of the big picture because of God’s mercy, not our merit. Our accomplishments would never qualify us for his mercy. There are forces greater than we that are at work throughout history, and presently, to make us God’s own. Our salvation could never be dependent on our getting everything right—not yesterday, not today, not ever.

Third, we are part of the big plan to make everything right. There is a type of Calvinism that so emphasizes God’s sovereign eternal plan that it virtually shuts out any role of human participation in the spread of the gospel. But when we properly understand what the apostle says here, we are compelled to put our lives in God’s service for the sake of the gospel. We are instruments of his glory, not mere observers of his sovereignty.

When Calvin preached in Geneva, he did not push merely for doctrinal understanding. Visit his church and you can still learn how the great expounder of God’s sovereignty welcomed people from all over the world, and then prepared them to gush forth from Geneva to take the gospel to others. Where confidence in the sovereign working of God was greatest, there were the greatest delight and zeal to participate in God’s plan.

Paul says that the Jews were chosen in order that they might be to the praise of God’s glory, and that when those who first believed from among the Jews told others, they might help fulfill God’s plan to bring all things under Christ. God’s people can be a part of extending God’s mercy and glory. Those who have apprehended how great is the mercy of God desire that his glory spread, and they recognize that God uses human means to do this. Those most aware of the eternal plan are those most anxious to be a part of it, because they know that their efforts are not futile and even their failures are not determinative of God’s final intentions. God will still use people who believe that they are part of his design to bring glory to his Son—and who know that his design will prevail.

I am always chasing rainbows. When a rainbow appears in the sky, I will run for a camera as well as whatever family member or pet I can get to pose in the picture. The beautiful colors, the contrast of darkening rain and glistening sun, the wonder of light in nature’s prism, the reminder of God’s mercy and covenant—all call to me to pay attention and relish the glory of God’s design. But my ability fully to appreciate the glory is always incomplete. Because of the way that rainbows are formed I will never see a complete rainbow from the ground. You may be thinking that you have seen a complete rainbow because you have seen either all its colors or a complete arc that touches the ground on both sides. But from the ground you have not seen a complete rainbow. Because of the sheering effect of the rain and the angle of the sun, a person beneath the rainbow cannot see all of God’s design where the legs come together and the rainbow is a complete circle. As long as our view is from the ground, earth gets in the way and we never see God’s complete design.

Yet, you can see a complete rainbow. I have. If you get above the earth in a plane or on a mountaintop, when the sun is just at the right angle, you can see the whole rainbow, the full circle—the completeness of God’s design. When earth does not get in the way, you can see all of God’s design.

In this portion of Scripture, Paul moves earth aside so that we can see God’s entire plan. He lifts us above earthly perspectives and lets us see our lives from the perspective of heaven. There we see the whole design of human history. We are raised above the limitations of our sin and finitude so we will see that from the beginning God chose to love us. He made a people for his very own and promised that from them would come those who would believe in Christ. These would be his instruments for telling others, so that all the world would come together in praise of his glory. And just as it was from the beginning, so it is now: all things are being worked together in conformity with Christ’s purpose so that by his mercy all is to the praise of his glory.

The Bible’s claim of divine purpose in all things puts Christians at odds with differing earthly viewpoints. First, it puts us at odds with the secular world. We do not accept the premises of the secular scientist at the university who refuses to let students use language of purpose and design in describing the world around us. Everything is part of God’s design—not random, not developed by chance, but divinely designed.

Second, a heavenly perspective puts us at odds with much in our personal world. Our limited and finite perspective does not always confirm divine purpose for us. We question and doubt God’s design because the things of earth get in the way: our troubles, our questions, our sin—yes, even our pain and suffering. How can they fit into his purpose? It is so hard to see divine designs when your child is ill, when the church seems troubled by needless debate, when you are struggling to hold a family together, or simply to make financial ends meet. Yet when our eyes see the full rainbow in Scripture—the completeness of God’s plan—and know by faith that our lives are a part of God’s design no matter what happens, then we can take whatever comes because we know that we are for the praise of his glory.

Our hearts naturally and understandably question, “Is there really purpose in all of this?” The apostle answers by taking us to heaven’s heights to let us see from God’s perspective the complete picture of his working all things together for Christ’s glory and our good through no merit of our own. From the beginning he made a world good and to his glory. But then, like a balloon punctured and deflated, the glory was left in crumpled remains of human misery and earthly corruption by the fall of Adam. But ever since, according to the nature that is in him, the Lord has been following a predetermined plan to refill the balloon with his mercy, ever expanding and extending the balloon to its original glory. First, the mercy was extended to a chosen people through no merit of their own. From them came those who were the first to believe in Christ, and they carried the message of mercy to other nations who now also are included in the plan of mercy until the expansion of the kingdom purposes of God are fulfilled.

Paul writes this epistle so that we would grasp that such a vast, intricate, and, at the same time, intimate plan is true and applies to us. What a difference it makes in my life and yours when we believe that the trials as well as the accomplishments, the difficulties as well as the joys, are not simply the products of brute forces in the universe but actually are all part of God’s eternal plan for his glory and our good. Do we have any assurance that such astounding truths do apply to us? Yes. Our assurance of God’s abiding care rests not only in his past and present promises, but also in his Spirit’s faithfulness.

His Spirit’s Faithfulness (1:13c–14)

Paul says to the Ephesians, “You were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (vv. 13b–14). Those who are part of God’s redemptive plan are marked with a seal that guarantees their receiving the full rights of God’s heirs in a kingdom redeemed and made right.

The “inheritance” concept is found elsewhere in Paul’s prison epistles (Eph. 5:5; Col. 1:12; 3:24) and in his speeches in Acts (20:32; 26:18). This is an important continuity. Jesus spoke of the inheritance of the kingdom and of eternal life (Matt. 19:29; 25:34), and his followers continued this expression (1 Cor. 6:9–10; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Heb. 1:14; 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4). But Jesus’ words do not originate the concept. The Old Testament people were also promised an inheritance from God. Now, as God’s people, this inheritance is “ours,” but we are not the sole recipients of blessing. God also has his own inheritance in the saints (Eph. 1:18; and see comments on verse 11 above).

The “seal” image that Paul is calling to mind is that of the wax that was affixed to an official document whose promises are guaranteed because of the authority of the one who marked the seal with a signet ring. The sign was the guarantee that what was promised would be fulfilled for those to whom it was promised.

But Paul is not ending the imagery there. The Holy Spirit is not just a mark of God that we are his possession; the Spirit also is a deposit guaranteeing the redemption that is to come. This deposit is similar to a down payment on a house that secures your position as the buyer, or the first fruits of a crop that indicate that the rest of the harvest is coming.5 The Spirit is the first evidence of the full grandeur of God’s completed purpose in our lives.

It all sounds so great. The Spirit marks us as God’s own and serves as the guarantee of God’s purpose for our lives. But does this satisfy all of our questions? No. We want to know how the Spirit marks us. What are the evidences of the deposit to assure us that God’s plan applies to us? The answer lies in the portion of the text not yet addressed: “And you also were included in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13).

It is important to remember that in the original language (despite the periods in our English versions) this portion of our text is part of one long sentence that extends beyond this verse. If this sentence structure is forgotten, then one is likely to create a time sequence for this verse that reflects our preconceptions rather than what the words actually say. If one’s preconception is that some special expression of the Holy Spirit, such as charismatic gifts, will arrive in a second blessing weeks or even years after conversion, then the words might be read this way: “You were included in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed that, then at a later time you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”

But what if the words are put as close together in time as the Greek sentence places the terms? Then the words do not indicate so much a separation of time as a sequence of logic. In this case, the words would be read this way: “You were included in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed that, then you were at that time marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” In this case, the proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit is not indicated by a distant expression of extraordinary charismatic gifts, but rather the immediate fact that God has brought the person to saving faith. Belief itself indicates the presence of the seal (mark) of the Spirit of God that guarantees we are God’s children because without the Spirit we could not and would not believe (Rom. 8:6–9; 1 Cor. 2:14).

We fail to recognize belief as the indication of the seal of the Spirit when we fail to remember how supernatural is the gift of our faith. The gospel says you are a sinner, and Jesus, the Lord of all and Lamb of God, died for your sins. The world doesn’t believe that. The gospel says that even when you are faithless, the faithful God has forgiven your past, laid claim on your life, and secured your future. The world doesn’t believe that. The gospel says that though you were dead in your trespasses and sins, Christ died for you, rose from the dead as the victor over your sins, gives purpose to your life now, and is coming to claim you eternally. The world cannot believe that. Not until the Holy Spirit comes and supernaturally changes a heart can anyone believe the truths of the gospel. Thus, says the apostle, your believing is the evidence that the Holy Spirit is in you.

The Holy Spirit who has already enabled you to taste the sweetness of God in the gospel of your salvation is giving you a foretaste of the glory that awaits you, guaranteed by his mark of belief in you. Already by the Holy Spirit’s using the gospel, your spiritual world has been turned upside down and made new. Your belief is the proof that the Bible speaks truth when it says that you are a new creation. In addition, this testimony of God’s Spirit in your heart affirms that what the Bible says about God’s work throughout creation can be trusted. The Bible says the entire creation is being conformed to God’s purposes and for his glory. Because we have witnessed the re-creating work of God in our hearts, we are able to trust that what the Bible says about God’s ultimate renewal of all things is also true.

These are precious truths that give meaning, purpose, and courage to our lives. I can know that nothing in my life is without purpose because I believe that the Savior died for me and now, as my risen Lord, he lives in me by his Spirit so that my life will be used for his glory. Such belief is itself the evidence (and guarantee) of the Spirit’s presence in my life and God’s purpose for my life. God has a purpose for me in all my weakness, frailty, sin, and fear. Does Paul say this because he does not understand the real challenges that we face? He is claiming that we can know everything will work out for God’s glory and our good simply because of the evidence of our belief as the Holy Spirit’s claim upon us. Does Paul live in the real world? Yes, he writes this letter while under Roman guard and awaiting trial. He knows the real world. And because he believes the gospel, he believes that even his suffering is part of God’s purpose of spreading the message of his faithfulness past and present until all of God’s precious people are gathered in to the glory of his name.

Because our weakness before the world outside of us, and our sin caused by the world inside of us, are so evident, we need the blessed assurance that our lives are not fruitless and that what we fail to achieve is not disqualifying of God’s love. Ultimately our confidence has to turn away from anything that we would offer and, instead, toward the faithfulness of our God that is confirmed by his Spirit’s work in us. Without these assurances the things that we must face until Christ comes again would be unbearable. But with the assurance that his purposes are secure and that we are in that plan, we can face whatever he calls us to endure and be secure even when our weaknesses are apparent.

A friend of mine recently shared that the high school graduation of his son Robby was filling the family with “new degrees of terror.” The reason for the terror was that Robby was born with multiple mental and physical handicaps. Once school was over, much of the government support for Robby would disappear, and it was not clear how the family would take care of him.

Robby was on my mind when, a few days later, the pastor of my church was pronouncing that Sunday’s benediction—the promise of God to give his blessing to his covenant people. As our pastor finished the benediction, a slurred voice rose in the back of the sanctuary and joined him in saying the final, oft-repeated words: “… to our God is the power and authority, now and forever, amen.” It was Robby, who, from his wheelchair, was testifying of the power and sovereignty of his God—past, present, and forever.

How could Robby believe such things, and how could his parents? His suffering and their anguish have been so great. There is little on this earth that would confirm the truth of the words he repeated. Only faith affirms that Robby’s hope is not in vain. But such faith rises above the earth and sees all things from God’s perspective. There he shows himself to be the God of all power who is able to conform all things to his purposes. There he promises that every valley shall be lifted, every injustice will be made right, every tear will be wiped away, hearts will be healed, bodies will be made whole, and all that now happens will lead us and others to an eternity of these blessings with our Savior. The weakest of vessels and the vilest of sinners are part of this eternal plan, as are all who believe in him. How do you know that you are included? Because you believe in him and, having believed, you have the testimony of his Spirit in your heart that he is able to bring all things together for his glory and your good.

The universe of your soul is already different, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the deposit of God of the full redemption that is ahead, given to assure you that what you face is not without purpose and what you most cherish is not in jeopardy. Neither is in your hands. Rather, all is in the hands of the wonderful God who called and made you his own out of his mercy alone. Even when you cannot do everything right, even when things seem all wrong, you are all right with God because he who chose you is working out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glory.[2]


13 Paul explains yet another facet of the readers’ inclusion “in Christ.” Twice more he repeats the prepositional phrase “in whom” (i.e., in Christ); this final action occurs in the same arena as the prior ones. After the first “in whom,” Paul inserts the conjunction kai (“also,” functioning as an adverb) and the emphatic personal pronoun “you” (hymeis) as though to shout, You also were sealed. Not only are the previous acts accomplished, but you, yes you, were also sealed with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not an agent who stamped us with a seal; the Spirit is the seal. Believers possess the Spirit.

The central verb in this verse, sphragizō, “seal,” has two participial modifiers; the verb and the participles are all in the aorist tense. The position of the participles prior to the main verb and the tense probably signal contemporaneous actions: sealing, hearing, and believing (cf. Hoehner, 237). The passive voice of “seal” no doubt implies the divine agent: God sealed the believers. The relationship between the participles and the main verb could be causal or temporal, i.e., God sealed either when or because they heard and when or because they believed. Though these present different nuances, the resultant meaning remains certain. Hearing the word of truth, i.e., the gospel of salvation, and believing it result in God’s sealing. When and because coalesce.

Thus Paul clarifies the means by which a person secures salvation, namely, hearing and believing. It matters what is heard and believed, for truth is at stake. They have heard the word (logos, GK 3365) that may also be termed “the truth.” Paul was strongly committed to following the way of truth (2 Co 4:2) and to proclaiming a saving message that embodied God’s truth. In 2 Corinthians 5:19 Paul terms his message the “word” (logos) of reconciliation and in Philippians 2:16 “the word of life,” both salvific terms. Paul defines the word of truth here as “the gospel of your salvation.” Employing the term “gospel” (euangelion, GK 2295), made famous by Mark (1:1), Paul believes the “word” represents “good news” about salvation. Consequently, Paul saw his entire career as propagating this gospel that brought salvation (Ro 1:1, 16; 15:16, 19). As 1 Thessalonians 5:8 makes abundantly clear, Paul saw “salvation” in ultimate and eschatological terms. People were headed to one of two outcomes—wrath or salvation. So Paul labored to bring people to God’s eschatological rescue (2 Ti 2:10).

But only hearing the salvation-bringing word is insufficient; people must believe the word, or more specifically, believe in Christ. Confession of and belief in Christ are the bases for salvation (Ro 10:9–10). For Paul, belief was no mere assent to a proposition or even to an acknowledgment that Jesus was Messiah or Lord. Belief entailed accepting not only that the gospel of Christ is true but that it is true for me. That is, saved ones live out in their experience the reality that Christ is Lord. Accordingly, in the second half of Ephesians we find Paul’s insistence on the lifestyle that must characterize true believers: “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1). So here the two processes must combine: hear and believe the word, for that word of truth is the good news that alone brings salvation.

When and because the believers heard and believed, God sealed them with the Holy Spirit of promise. The Spirit has an important role in this letter (2:18, 22; 3:5; 5:18; 6:18). Elsewhere Paul links the gift of the Holy Spirit to the point of acquiring salvation (Ro 8:9–11; 1 Co 12:13; Gal 3:2). A “saved” person possesses the Holy Spirit (Ro 5:5; 1 Co 6:19). Paul may be thinking of the gifts of the Spirit or the fruit of the Spirit (or both). Some see a hint of baptism here, but no evidence in the text suggests that rite. But what is the point of sealing here? “Sealing” could pinpoint a security measure or the need to seal something up, but probably here Paul intends the seal as a mark of ownership or possession (cf. BDAG, 980). In that case, the presence of the Spirit in the believers’ lives marks them out as God’s property (also confirmed in 2 Co 1:22). The Spirit here is called literally “the Holy Spirit of promise.” This genitival connection probably conveys a descriptive meaning (as in the NIV)—the promised Holy Spirit (Gal 3:14; cf. Ac 1:5, 8; 2:4, 17). As he promised, when God takes ownership of a person he marks that person with the Spirit, a seal for the day of redemption (Eph 4:30). The Ephesian believers enjoy the same status as all members of Christ’s body. They have God’s seal on them, the same one that identifies all believers.

14 Paul calls the Spirit the arrabōn (a Semitic word that passed into Greek; GK 775) of our inheritance (see also 2 Co 1:22; 5:5). BDAG, 134, describe this entity as the “payment of part of a purchase price in advance, first installment, deposit, down payment, pledge.” The sense is clear enough. The Spirit in believers’ lives constitutes God’s “earnest money,” a kind of deposit from him by which he assures that he will give them their full inheritance. In v. 18 Paul speaks of the “riches of [God’s] glorious inheritance in the saints.” The Spirit is the down payment; the remaining riches will follow. A Spirit-filled life is a foretaste of what heaven will be like (cf. 5:18–21).

The verse ends with more tortuous grammar—two prepositional phrases with genitival modifiers that describe the down payment of our inheritance. The first explains what will happen (and possibly when): (until) God redeems his possession. The second expresses its significance: God’s glory will be praised. Paul revisits the theme of redemption (recall v. 7) and adds an interesting descriptor for those redeemed: they are God’s possession or property (cf. 2 Pe 3:9). At the grand finale when God “pays up,” he will redeem his property—us—and we will acquire our inheritance. The response to this exorbitant grace comes as no surprise if we have followed Paul closely: God’s glory is praised! This repeats the outcome of v. 12 (cf. v. 6).[3]


Assurance (vv. 13–14)

Then, in verses 13–14, Paul reminds his readers that this inheritance cannot be taken away. For, when we believed, we were “sealed … with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance.” The Spirit’s presence in our lives is a seal, an evidence of the fact that we really are God’s people. He is like God’s wax signature stamp on the scroll of our lives, indicating that we are the genuine article, that we really do belong to God. Further, if the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is evidence that we belong to God, it is also “a pledge” (a promise) that, since we surely belong to God, God’s “inheritance” surely belongs to us! The Spirit’s presence in our lives—convicting us of sin, illuminating God’s Word, helping us to pray, ordering our daily steps, and so on, brings about an assurance that we really are God’s people and that we will, therefore, surely inherit all the blessings extolled in Ephesians 1.

So, says Paul, we have been given “every spiritual blessing” in Christ. Moreover, through his own excitement and exultation (v. 3), Paul informs us that, far from merely listing these blessings and mulling over each for a moment or two, we ought to bless God for them! Remember, Paul began this long sentence with the words, “Blessed be … God”! I hope you might pause, even in the middle of this chapter, to say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing”!

Second, let us notice that we have “every spiritual blessing” …

“In Christ”

Perhaps you noticed that the words “in Christ,” “in Him,” and other similar formulas are repeated over and again in Paul’s register of spiritual blessings:

  • “Every spiritual blessing” is ours “in Christ” (v. 3).
  • God chose us “in Him” (v. 4).
  • He predestined us to adoption as sons “through Jesus Christ” (v. 5).
  • God’s grace was freely bestowed upon us “in the Beloved” (v. 6).
  • “In Him” we have our redemption (v. 7).
  • The forgiveness of our trespasses comes “through His blood” (v. 7).
  • The mystery of God’s will unfolds “in Him” (v. 9).
  • “In Him” we have obtained our inheritance (vv. 10–11).
  • “In Him” we believed and were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (v. 13).

Paul is emphatic about this point. Yes, God has given us spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing. But he does not snatch these blessings out of thin air. No: the blessings of God are all ours “in Christ.” He is the chest in which are stored the treasures of sanctification, redemption, forgiveness, and so on. We would not (and could not) possess any of these things had not Jesus come and lived sinlessly where we have not; had he not died the death that we deserve; had he not risen on the third day; and were he not seated at the Father’s right hand, even now, interceding for us. “Every spiritual blessing” is ours only because of what Jesus has done on our behalf; only because God loved us enough to give us his only begotten Son; and only if we ourselves are truly “in Him.”

We must never speak of heaven, of Christian growth, or of being God’s children without speaking of Jesus. We only possess these things “in Him”! Indeed, we must never even speak of the Holy Spirit divorced from Christ. For it is “in Him” that we have been “sealed … with the Holy Spirit of promise” (v. 13).

“Every spiritual blessing” is ours only “in Christ.” The Christian faith and the Christian life are all rooted and grounded in Jesus. This is what Paul is getting at in that difficult series of phrases in verses 9–10. In “the fullness of the times,” God made it clear that his whole plan, the whole mystery of his will for mankind, is summed up in Christ! Jesus is the key that unlocked our salvation. Jesus is the treasure chest from which all God’s blessings are drawn. Jesus is the axis point on the timeline of human history. Jesus is the center of heaven’s attention. God has ordered the world, Paul says in verse 10, so that “the summing up of all things” would be “in Christ.” And not least in Paul’s understanding of “all things” are the blessings of our salvation. We have “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

We also have these blessings, Paul reminds us, …

“According to the riches of His grace” (v. 7)

God is the one who has blessed us, we are told in verse 3. And he has done so, not because we deserve blessing, but “according to the riches of His grace” (v. 7). He has blessed us, not because of some goodness in us, but “according to the kind intention of His will” (v. 5), “according to His kind intention” (v. 9). God treats us far better than we deserve! That is the definition of grace!

Grace is a theme that Paul elaborates famously in Ephesians 2. But even here in chapter 1 we are reminded of it again and again. We are “in Christ,” we possess “every spiritual blessing,” we have assurance of sins forgiven and heaven awaiting us—all simply because God is kind and gracious; because he is good and merciful. Instead of rewarding us according to the poverty of our characters, God rewards us “according to the riches of His grace.”

Once again, we ought to pause, with the apostle, and simply revel in the kindness and graciousness of our God! Think, for a moment, about what your sins deserve. Think about how you have gone astray even in the last week. How might you feel about someone who snubbed, forgot, or ignored you over and over again? But how does God feel about us according to verses 3–14? How kind is he, really—especially when we consider what we actually deserve from his hands? No wonder Paul revels as he writes these verses! No wonder he can scarcely put down his quill or finish his sentence! The kindness of God is too great for words! Paul could go on and on, describing “the glory of His grace” (v. 6) and “the kind intention of His will” (v. 5). Surely we ought to do so as well. Surely we ought sometimes to lose all track of time, and perhaps even sentence structure, as we praise “the riches of [God’s] grace.”

Indeed, it is for this very purpose that God blesses us—that we might praise his name! Every spiritual blessing is ours in Christ, and according to the riches of God’s grace, for one purpose:

“To the praise of His glory” (v. 12)

Here is another refrain that is repeated in this first chapter of Ephesians. God has predestined and adopted us, and he is making us holy, “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (v. 6). He has given us our inheritance “to the praise of His glory” (v. 12). He has made us his very own possession “to the praise of His glory” (v. 14). God has bestowed every blessing upon us, he has opened up the treasure chest that is in Jesus and lavished gift after gift upon us, not merely so that we might enjoy the gifts, but so that we might praise and glorify the Giver! We have been made Christians, not first of all for our own sakes, but for God’s—“to the praise of His glory”!

So much of modern culture—even modern Christian culture—is geared toward the happiness and fulfillment of the individual. This is why the aforementioned televangelists have gained such a foothold. They say what we like to hear: “God wants to make me happy; to make me fulfilled; to give me blessings.” And they are not all wrong, of course. God does want to fulfill and delight his people. Nothing could be clearer when we read Ephesians 1! But where the prosperity teachers have erred badly—and where many other Christians fall into error as well—is by overlooking the fact that God blesses us and brings joy and fulfillment into our lives, not simply for the sake of our own joy and fulfillment, but so that we will turn around and bless him—just as Paul is doing from verse 3.

I say that many Christians—even those who see right through the sham of the prosperity gospel—miss this point. So what are some of the implications of that phrase “to the praise of His glory”? What does it mean, in practical terms? It means that we are made more holy (v. 4), not so we can admire our reflection in the mirror, but so that we will admire the One whose image we reflect more and more! It also means that we are adopted into God’s family (v. 5), not only so that we can revel in our possessing the rights of children, but also that we might revel in the Father himself! We are forgiven of sins (v. 7), not simply so we can feel a sense of relief from conviction, but also that we might praise and magnify the kindness of the God who forgives! And we will someday receive our inheritance in heaven (v. 11), not merely so that we will be able to sit back and think about how wonderful it is to live without sin, tears, or pain, but so that those blessings (and they will be spectacular!) will urge us to press as close as possible to God’s throne and praise him, the Giver of the blessings!

FOR FURTHER STUDY

  1. Does Paul’s teaching on election and predestination surprise you? Why is that? What other biblical passages speak on this subject? What do they say? Do they call for any rethinking on your part?
  1. Is there a spiritual blessing mentioned in verses 3–14 which you would like to understand or appreciate better? Using a concordance or online tool, do a study of all the places and ways in which Paul uses that word.

TO THINK ABOUT AND DISCUSS

  1. Was there any spiritual blessing in verses 3–14 that stood out as particularly moving or relevant to you? Why was that?
  1. Every Christian has a testimony of “redemption” (v. 7), of how God set him or her free from slavery to sin and self. What is your testimony? Spend some time marveling at how God redeemed you—and perhaps share the story with a Bible-study partner or friend.
  1. How do you react to the thought that God saved you from your sins and granted you a heavenly inheritance primarily to the praise of His own glory? Does that mean our happiness is unimportant? How are our happiness and God’s glory intertwined? Can they coexist? Can they exist apart from each other?[4]

1:13 / Here the author turns to the Gentiles and affirms that they, too, were included in Christ. He then proceeds to outline the steps that were involved in their coming to Christ:

First, they heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. On some occasion these readers heard the message of the gospel, which resulted in their salvation. In this context, salvation probably signifies inner renewal and all the blessings and privileges available to believers because of their status in Christ (cf. 2:1ff.) rather than preservation from the wrath of God (cf. Rom. 5:9).

The phraseology of this opening statement is similar to Colossians 1:5 and to the ideas in Romans 10:14 and 17, which show that the proclamation of the gospel precedes faith in the gospel. A similar sequence takes place during Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost when he summons those who heard the gospel to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:37ff.).

Second, they believed in Christ, literally, “in whom also having believed.” Although the content of belief is not mentioned, it definitely must include the person of Christ (“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” Rom. 10:9) or the gospel that bears witness to him.

Third, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. The imagery behind this phrase comes from the ancient custom of sealing (sphragizō), in which personal possessions (e.g., animals, household goods, slaves) received a mark or stamp of ownership in much the same way that things are branded or identified today. This act also confirmed or authenticated something as genuine. A seal on a letter or document, for example, declared that it was legally valid. People belonging to religious cults often were sealed with marks that bore the image of their god(s). The Book of Revelation talks about those who have or do not have “the seal of God on their foreheads” (Rev. 9:4; cf. also 7:2–8; 22:4; 2 Tim. 2:19).

In the nt, there are a number of references that indicate that the Holy Spirit is the Christian’s seal: In Romans, Paul relates the inner witness of the Spirit to the believer’s sonship (8:15, 16; cf. Gal. 4:6), thus affirming that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer is a sign that he or she belongs to God. The apostle is even more explicit in 2 Corinthians 1:22, “[God] set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” Ephesians 1:13 confirms this by assuring the believer that the seal is the possession of the Holy Spirit. It is a visible attestation that one belongs to Christ.

Although Paul connects the giving of the Holy Spirit to the acts of “hearing” the gospel and “believing” in Christ, there are credible reasons to believe that verse 13 has the baptismal event in mind, even though the term is not mentioned explicitly. First, there is an inseparable connection between faith and baptism in the nt. Baptism is believers’ baptism, and those who believed in Christ expressed their faith almost immediately in baptism (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 35–38; 9:18; 10:47, 48; 19:5). Faith and baptism went so closely together that they were regarded as one act rather than two. Peter, for example, instructs his hearers to repent, that is, to have faith, believe, and to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (2:38). When Paul becomes a Christian, he is told to “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Within the framework of the nt, one was not baptized unless one believed; nor did one believe without being baptized.

Second, the nt connects baptism with the reception of the Holy Spirit. Peter summons his audience to be baptized and receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Paul associates baptism and the Holy Spirit on several occasions in his letters (1 Cor. 6:11; 12:13; Titus 3:5). And when Luke describes some of the major epochs in the life of the early Christian church, he includes faith, baptism, and the reception of the Holy Spirit as essential parts of becoming a Christian, that is, of Christian initiation (Acts 2:38ff.; 8:12–17; 19:1–6; cf. 10:44–48). There is no need for a “Spirit baptism” or a rite of confirmation apart from the reception of the Holy Spirit at the time of water baptism.

On the basis of these observations it appears legitimate to interpret 1:13 within the context of baptism. The aorist participles “having heard” (akousantes) and “having believed” (pisteusantes), followed by the aorist passive (“you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”), are reminiscent of the faith, baptism, Holy Spirit pattern noted above. The author does not envision a sequence of events separated by a long period of time.

Although the Holy Spirit is the seal (1:13; 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22), and 1:13 is a strong allusion to baptism, it is by no means certain that sealing is used as a technical term for baptism in Ephesians. The first definite reference to the “seal of baptism” occurs in the second century (ca. a.d. 150) in the Second Letter of Clement (7.6; 8.6). From this time onward, sphragis is the seal received by all Christians at baptism and thus becomes a term for baptism itself.

The effect of the Holy Spirit is to mark the believer with a seal. As a seal, the Spirit marks one out as belonging to Christ. It is interesting to note that this is virtually the same effect that baptism “into Christ” has. To be baptized into the name or person of Christ is to become Christ’s possession, to be placed under the Lord’s authority and protection.

1:14 / In addition to ownership, the Holy Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing that believers will receive God’s promises. Most commentators suggest that the idea of guarantee (arrabōn) came into the Greek world from the Phoenicians who, in matters of trade, often would make a deposit or an installment as earnest money with the balance to be paid in full at some later date. This act obliged both buyer and seller to complete the transaction. But “the deal” included a sense of “quality” as well, for the person receiving the down payment looked forward to receiving full payment with goods of the same quality (Mitton, pp. 62–63). In the Christian life, the Holy Spirit is a pledge that God will complete his promise to deliver our inheritance. The statement in 2 Corinthians 5:5 is more specific about this idea: “God … has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” One’s present life in the Spirit is a foretaste of one’s future and eternal life with the Spirit!

Beyond guaranteeing one’s inheritance, the Holy Spirit assures believers of the redemption of those who are God’s possession. Included in this translation are the two important theological concepts of redemption (apolytrōsis) and possession (peripoiēsis). Some commentators (cf. Abbott, p. 24) believe that the context (our inheritance) requires that possession likewise be “our possession.” Thus, believers are redeemed, but await a future time when they will take full possession of their redemption. This view has led to the ambiguous and inadequate translation in the rsv, “which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Most commentators—and as a result most English translations, like the niv—think the verse is stressing that God is the agent of redemption and that believers are God’s possession (niv, nasb), “his own” (neb), or “those who are his” (gnb). Although redemption is a present gift, the Holy Spirit assures the believer that ultimately God will redeem completely those who are his; he is a guarantee until the complete freedom (redemption) of God’s own people (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9).

These thoughts recall the “already” and the “not yet” aspect of the Christian life. Believers have been given the Holy Spirit, enjoy new life in Christ, have been redeemed, but still await the fulfillment of these blessings at the second Advent. The sealing of the Holy Spirit has an eschatological function that points toward the final day, when their bodies will completely be freed (redeemed) from all the effects of sin. Ephesians 4:30 expands this concept more fully when it refers to “the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” A similar thought concerning redemption is expressed in Romans 8:23, where Paul discusses the future glory of God’s people and God’s creation: “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

This great hymn of praise (vv. 3–14) ends with a note that has been sounded several times before with respect to God’s elective purpose for humanity. Hence, election and sonship are to the praise of his glorious grace (v. 6); redemption, and all of its benefits (vv. 7–11), are to culminate in a life of praise (that we … might be for the praise of his glory—v. 12); finally, the pledge of the Holy Spirit is presented in relation to the unfolding plan of God. This, also, is to the praise of his glory (v. 14).[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 33–36). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Chapell, B. (2009). Ephesians. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 49–58). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[3] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 54–55). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Strassner, K. (2014). Opening up Ephesians (pp. 29–35). Leominster: Day One.

[5] Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 157–161). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

JANUARY 24 BRINGING US TO GLORY

For it became him…bringing many sons unto glory.

Hebrews 2:10

As Christian believers (I am assuming you are a believer), you and I know how we have been changed and regenerated and assured of eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning death. On the other hand, where this good news of salvation by faith is not known, religion becomes an actual bondage. If Christianity is known only as a religious institution, it may well become merely a legalistic system of religion, and the hope of eternal life becomes a delusion.

I have said this much about reality and assurance to counter the shock you may feel when I add that God wants to fully prepare you in your daily Christian life so that you will be ready indeed for heaven! Many of us have been in God’s household for a long time. Remember that God has been trying to do something special within our beings day after day, year after year.

Why? Because His purpose is to bring many sons—and daughters too—unto glory!

Dear Jesus, thank You for Your faithfulness in my life—even when I ignore You. Today I want to be especially attuned to Your holy presence in each of my activities.[1]


[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

January 24 Angels Minister to Jesus

Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.—Matt. 4:11

After Jesus’ greatest foe left, “angels came and began to minister to Him.” It is quite fitting that holy angels should come to care for and comfort Him after the prince of the fallen angels had harassed Him with three major temptations. To provide the benefits of angelic ministry was just another way for the Father to register His approval of the Son and signify the Son’s worthiness.

At the first sign of confrontation with Satan, Christ could easily have summoned help from “more than twelve legions of angels” (Matt. 26:53). But He obediently waited for the Father to send assistance according to the divine schedule. We are not told what kind of ministry the angels performed, but they undoubtedly brought Jesus food to relieve His hunger. And spiritually they would have worshiped the Son and delivered to Him many words of assurance and comfort from His Father.

The devil’s temptations of Jesus failed, whereas God’s testings of His Son succeeded. Time after time, Jesus had answered with the ideal response to each test. The Lord also provides His saints with the power to resist the adversary’s schemes (James 4:7), knowing that Satan will certainly persist in challenging believers, just as he challenged Jesus. But for every new or repeated temptation, God always gives us a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13).

ASK YOURSELF

Perhaps you’re the giving, ministry type. You freely give and share and do and give comfort. But how well do you receive God’s comfort and His ministry to you? How welcome are you to the caring compassions of others? To meet needs is noble, but to admit our own is still necessary.[1]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 32). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

January 24 A Thankful Heart

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.

Philippians 1:3

A thankful heart is essential for true spiritual service. If you are trying to serve the Lord without gratitude in your heart for what He’s done for you, then you are serving in the flesh with improper motives. One who is thankful realizes that God has a cause for everything that happens. One who serves externally, legalistically, or ritualistically will not find very many things to be thankful for in his life because he is not grateful for the things God has already done for him.

Do you have a thankful heart? Are you overwhelmed with thanksgiving for what God has done? If you are, then you will be free from bitterness or resentment toward God or anyone else.

There is so much to be thankful for. The devil often tempts us by saying, “You deserve better than that. You don’t have to be thankful.” But when he does, make sure you remember how much you have to be thankful for![1]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 35). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

January 24, 2018 Morning Verse Of The Day

11:35 to refine. Faced by persecution, some who remained true to God’s “insight” (any true believers, 12:3) were to fall as martyrs. The gracious design of such suffering was to sanctify them. The persecution pattern continues until the final “end time” that God appointed, at Christ’s second coming. Reference to this “end time” prepares for a transition in v. 36 to final tribulation times when the Antichrist, whom Antiochus prefigures, will be in power. the end time … appointed time. These two eschatological terms point to a forward leap across thousands of years of history from Antiochus to a future similar trial when the willful king (vv. 36–45) rules. The willful king is the “little horn,” the Antichrist (7:7, 8, 20, 21, 24–26), the persecutor of 9:27 (see note there).[1]


11:35 The refining process looks forward to God’s refining of the church (Rom. 5:3–5; Heb. 12:3–11; 1 Pet. 1:6–7).[2]


11:35 Some of those of understanding refers to those who understood God’s Word and were allowed to go through troubled times so that they could be refined and purified.[3]


11:35 Some of those of understanding refers to those who understood God’s Word and were allowed to go through troubled times so that they could be refined and purified.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Da 11:35). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1616). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The NKJV Study Bible. (2007). (Da 11:35). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1023). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

JANUARY 24 BOTH EASY AND DIFFICULT

To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

—Jude 25

But the God we must see is not the utilitarian God who is having such a run of popularity today, whose chief claim to men’s attention is His ability to bring them success in their various undertakings and who for that reason is being cajoled and flattered by everyone who wants a favor. The God we must learn to know is the Majesty in the heavens, God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, the only wise God our Saviour….

Knowledge of such a Being cannot be gained by study alone. It comes by a wisdom the natural man knows nothing of, neither can know, because it is spiritually discerned. To know God is at once the easiest and the most difficult thing in the world. It is easy because the knowledge is not won by hard mental toil, but is something freely given. As sunlight falls free on the open field, so the knowledge of the holy God is a free gift to men who are open to receive it. But this knowledge is difficult because there are conditions to be met and the obstinate nature of fallen man does not take kindly to them. KOH180-181

Lord, deliver me from viewing You as simply a utilitarian God and give to me the spiritual wisdom that defies my obstinacy and leads me to true knowledge of You. Amen.[1]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

January 24 Forbearing Love

“… Showing forbearance to one another in love.”

Ephesians 4:2

✧✧✧

In order to walk worthy, we must forgive our enemies and love them.

The term forbearance is not often used today and is therefore unfamiliar to many of us. The Greek word translated “showing forbearance” means “suppressing with silence.” It carries the idea of throwing a blanket over sin. First Peter 4:8 says, “Love covers a multitude of sins,” and Proverbs 10:12 declares, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.” A forbearing person doesn’t trumpet other people’s sins but rather forgives them. Forbearance has room for the failures of others. A forbearing person also loves people in spite of the wrongs they might have done to him.

Agape, the word used for “love” in this verse, is the love that gives but never takes. It’s the kind of love that seeks the highest good for another, no matter what the cost. God showed His agape by giving us His only Son (John 3:16). Jesus said, “Greater love [agape] has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (15:13). Agape is unconquerable benevolence and invincible goodness; it is completely selfless.

Perhaps the greatest description of forbearing love is the summary Jesus gives in Matthew 5:43–45: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” We were God’s enemies before He saved us, but He was willing to send His Son anyway (Rom. 5:10). Since we are God’s children, we must also seek our enemies’ highest good, whatever it costs us. Such cost ought to include more than simply enduring slander and persecution from our enemies. Genuine forbearing love will assume the more difficult task of loving those who hate us.

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God that He showed forbearing love in sending Christ to die for undeserving sinners. ✧ Pray for your enemies and for strength to love them as you should.

For Further Study: Besides Christ, the clearest example of forbearing love is Stephen’s attitude toward those who stoned him. Read his story in Acts 6–7, and note his love toward his executioners. ✧ Think about people you have a hard time loving, and pray that God would show you specific ways you can show love to them. Then follow through![1]


[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

January 23 Daily Help

IT is well to be the sheep of God’s pasture, even if we have been wandering sheep. The straying sheep has an owner, and however far it may stray from the fold, it ceases not to belong to that owner. I believe that God will yet bring back into the fold every one of His own sheep, and they shall all be saved. It is something to feel our wanderings, for if we feel ourselves to be lost, we shall certainly be saved; if we feel ourselves to have wandered, we shall certainly be brought back.[1]


[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1892). Daily Help (p. 27). Baltimore: R. H. Woodward & Company.

January 23, 2018 Evening Verse Of The Day

Salvation Is by Love

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, (2:4)

Salvation is from sin and by love. God’s mercy is plousios, rich, overabounding, without measure, unlimited. The problem with reconciliation is not on the Lord’s side. The two words but God show where the initiative was in providing the power of salvation. His great desire is to be rejoined with the creatures He made in His own image and for His own glory. The rebellion and rejection is on man’s side. Because He was rich in mercy toward us and had great love for us, He provided a way for us to return to Him. In Romans 11:32 the apostle Paul focuses on this same issue in saying, “God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.” His purpose in so doing is given in verse 36: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (emphasis added).

Salvation for God’s glory is by the motivation and power of God’s great love. God is intrinsically kind, merciful, and loving. And in His love He reaches out to vile, sinful, rebellious, depraved, destitute, and condemned human beings and offers them salvation and all the eternal blessings it brings. Man’s rebellion is therefore not only against God’s lordship and law but against His love.

If a person were driving down the street and carelessly ran down and killed a child, he probably would be arrested, tried, fined, and imprisoned for involuntary manslaughter. But after he paid the fine and served the sentence he would be free and guiltless before the law in regard to that crime. But paying his penalty before the law would do nothing to restore the life of the child or alleviate the grief of the parents. The offense against them was on an immeasurably deeper level. The only way a relationship between the parents and the man who killed their child could be established or restored would be for the parents to offer forgiveness. No matter how much the man might want to do so, he could not produce reconciliation from his side. Only the one offended can offer forgiveness, and only forgiveness can bring reconciliation.

Though greatly offended and sinned against (as depicted in the parable of Matt. 18:23–35), because of God’s rich … mercy and His great love He offered forgiveness and reconciliation to us as He does to every repentant sinner. Though in their sin and rebellion all men participated in the wickedness of Jesus’ crucifixion, God’s mercy and love provide a way for them to participate in the righteousness of His crucifixion. “I know what you are and what you have done,” He says; “but because of My great love for you, your penalty has been paid, My law’s judgment against you has been satisfied, through the work of My Son on your behalf. For His sake I offer you forgiveness. To come to Me you need only to come to Him.” Not only did He love enough to forgive but also enough to die for the very ones who had offended Him. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Compassionate love for those who do not deserve it makes salvation possible.

Salvation Is into Life

even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (2:5)

Above all else, a dead person needs to be made alive. That is what salvation gives—spiritual life. To encourage believers who doubt the power of Christ in their lives, Paul reminds them that if God was powerful and loving enough to give them spiritual life together with Christ, He is certainly able to sustain that life. The power that raised us out of sin and death and made us alive (aorist tense) together with Christ (cf. Rom. 6:1–7) is the same power that continues to energize every part of our Christian living (Rom. 6:11–13). The we may emphasize the linking of the Jew with the Gentile “you” in verse 1. Both are in sin and may receive mercy to be made alive in Christ.

When we became Christians we were no longer alienated from the life of God. We became spiritually alive through union with the death and resurrection of Christ and thereby for the first time became sensitive to God. Paul calls it walking in “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). For the first time we could understand spiritual truth and desire spiritual things. Because we now have God’s nature, we now can seek godly things, “the things above” rather than “the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). That is what results from being alive together with Christ. “We shall also live with Him” (Rom. 6:8) says the apostle, and our new life is indistinguishable from His life lived in us (Gal. 2:20). In Christ we cannot help but be pleasing to God.[1]


But God

Ephesians 2:4–5

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.

It is customary in preparing English translations of the New Testament to rearrange the Greek phrases. This is appropriate, because English syntax is different from Greek syntax and the rearrangements present better for the English mind what the Greek is saying. Still, I wish the translators of the New International Version had not rearranged the phrases of Ephesians 2:4. For in the Greek text this classical statement of the gospel begins with the two words “but God,” and that dramatic beginning is weakened when the words “because of his great love for us” are interposed.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones rightly says in his commentary, “These two words, in and of themselves, in a sense contain the whole of the gospel.” They tell what God has done, how God has intervened in what otherwise was an utterly hopeless situation. Before God’s intervention we were as Ephesians 2:1–3 describes 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 sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”

This is a deplorable, desperate, heinous condition. “But God!” The intervention of those words and what they represent make all the difference.

I want to ask four questions as I seek to expound these words: (1) Who is this God? (2) What has he done? (3) Why has he done it? and (4) What must I then do?

Who is This God?

It is important that we begin by discussing the nature of the God about whom Paul writes, for there are different ideas of God and not all ideas of who he is fill the bill. Many people think of God as a benevolent but nevertheless basically weak being. He would like to help us (and does somewhat), but he cannot do much. He is limited by evil and controlled by circumstances. Others think of God as powerful, but as distant and austere. He could help, but he does not care. People have thousands of conflicting and inadequate ideas about God. But the God about whom Paul is writing is not the God of this type of human imagining. He is the God of the Bible, the God of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God Paul has already presented gloriously in the first chapter.

What do we know about this God? We know a number of things.

  1. God is sovereign. The most important thing that can be said about the God of the Bible is that God is sovereign. In fact if God is not sovereign, God is not God. Sovereignty means rule, so to say that God is sovereign is to say that God rules his creation. He made it, and he is in control of it. Nothing occurs without his permission. Nothing ever rises up to surprise him. What God has ordained from the beginning comes to pass. Because he knows this, Paul can speak as he does in the first chapter. For here he is not merely talking about what God has done in the past. That might be established merely by observation. He is also talking about the future, showing that God is at work to exalt Jesus as head of all things and subject everything to him. Paul speaks positively and certainly about the future because God is in control of it just as he has controlled the past. The future is certain because the all-powerful, sovereign God determines it.
  2. God is holy. Nothing is more apparent in Paul’s opening description of God’s great plan of salvation, unfolding over the ages, than that God is a moral God. He is not indifferent to issues of right and wrong, justice and injustice, righteousness and sin. On the contrary, it is because of his opposition to everything sinful that his great plan of salvation was devised and is being executed. Sin will be punished; righteousness will be exalted in his universe.
  3. God is full of wrath against sin. This point flows from God’s holiness. It is the outworking of his holiness against all that is opposed to it. This is why our condition is so frightful. Paul describes us as being “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1). That is bad, of course. But it would not be frightful apart from God’s wrath against those transgressions. Apart from wrath we might simply conclude that this is just the way things are. God is God; we are people. He is holy; we are not holy. Let God go his way, and we will go ours. Ah, but it does not work like that. God does not simply take his own path. This is his universe. He is the holy God, and our sin has introduced a foul blemish into it. He is opposed to sin and is determined to stamp it out.

This is the God of the Bible and of the Lord Jesus Christ, the God about whom Paul is writing. This God is what we need, though we do not know it in our sinful state. Instead of coming to him to find new life and righteousness, we run from him to wickedness and spiritual death.

What Has God Done?

But God! It is wonderful to discover that although we run from God, preferring wickedness and death to righteousness and life, God has not run from us. Instead, he has come to us, and has done for us precisely what needed to be done. In a word, he has saved us. He has rescued us from the desperate, deplorable condition described at the beginning of the chapter.

When we were discussing the state of men and women before God intervenes to save them, I pointed out that our position as sinners (apart from God) is hopeless for three reasons. First, we are “dead in [our] transgressions and sins.” This means that we are no more able to help ourselves spiritually than a corpse is able to improve its condition. Even when the gospel is preached we are no more able to respond to it than a corpse can respond to a command to get up—unless God speaks the command. Dead means hopeless. When a person dies, the struggle is over. Second, we are enslaved by sin. This spiritual death is a strange thing. Although we are dead in sin so far as our ability to respond to God is concerned, we are nevertheless alive enough to be quite active in the practice of wickedness. In fact, we are enslaved to wicked practices. We are enslaved to sin. Third, we are under God’s just sentence for our transgressions so that, as Paul says, we are “by nature objects of wrath” (v. 3).

But God! Here is where the beauty and wonder of the Christian gospel comes in. We were hopelessly lost in wickedness. But God has intervened to save us, and he has saved us by intervening sovereignly and righteously in each of these areas.

Notice how this works out. We were dead in sins, but God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (v. 5). As I suggested at the close of the last chapter, our experience as Christians is like that of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. We were dead to any godly influence. But God can awaken the dead, and that is what he has done for us. Like Lazarus, we have heard the Lord calling us to “come out” (John 11:43); his voice brought forth life in us, and we have responded, emerging wonderfully from our spiritual tomb. Now life is no longer as it was. Life is itself new, and in addition we have a new Master and a new standard of righteous living to pursue.

Again, not only were we dead in our sins; we were also enslaved by them. Even though we might have desired to do better, we could not. Instead our struggles to escape only drew us down, plunging us deeper and deeper into sin’s quicksand. But God! God has not only called us back to life; he has also, Paul writes, “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (v. 6). There are no slaves in heaven. So if we have been raised up with Christ and been made to sit in the heavenly realms in him, it is as free men and women. Sin’s shackles have been broken, and we are freed to act righteously and serve God effectively in this world.

Third, God has dealt with the wrath question. In our sins we are indeed “objects of wrath” (v. 3). But since Jesus has suffered in our place for our sin and we have been delivered from it, we are no longer under wrath. Instead we are objects of “the incomparable riches of [God’s] grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (v. 7).

John R. W. Stott puts it like this: “These two monosyllables [‘but God’] set against the desperate condition of fallen mankind the gracious initiative and sovereign action of God. We were the objects of his wrath, but God out of the great love with which he loved us had mercy upon us. We were dead, and dead men do not rise, but God made us alive with Christ. We were slaves, in a situation of dishonour and powerlessness, but God has raised us with Christ and set us at his own right hand, in a position of honour and power. Thus God has taken action to reverse our condition in sin.”

The words “but God” show what God has done. Besides, they draw our thoughts to God and encourage us to trust him in all things.

Am I ignorant of God? Indeed, I am. “ ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:9–10).

Am I tempted to sin? Indeed, I am. “Temptation … is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13, kjv).

Am I foolish, weak, ignoble? Yes, that too. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor. 1:27–29).

Have I been the victim of other people’s sin and ill will? Probably, or at least I will be sooner or later. Still I will be able to say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” (Gen. 50:20).

May I put it quite simply? If you understand those two words—“but God”—they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.

Why Did God Do It?

The third question I want to ask is: Why? Why did God do all that Paul and these other passages tell us he has done? There is only one answer: grace. He has done this because it has pleased him to do it. I say “one answer.” Yet, strictly speaking, Paul expresses the thought not with one but with four words.

  1. Love (v. 4). God has done this, Paul says, “because of his great love for us.” C. S. Lewis described this love by saying, “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creations in order that he may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing—or should we say ‘seeing’? there are no tenses in God—the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. … Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.”
  2. Mercy (v. 4). Mercy is related to love; it flows from it. But mercy has the sense of favor being shown to those who deserve the precise opposite. If nothing but a proper code of rewards and retribution were followed, sinners would receive God’s wrath. That they do not is because God is merciful. Instead of condemning them, as he had every right to do, he reached out and saved them through the death of Jesus Christ.
  3. Grace (v. 5). This is the word that seems chiefly to have been on Paul’s mind, for he repeats it in an almost identical sentence in the latter half of this same paragraph. Verse 5 says, “It is by grace you have been saved.” Verses 8 and 9 say similarly, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Grace means that there is no cause in us why God should have acted as he did. We think the opposite. We think God owes us something. Even after we become Christians we often find ourselves thinking in these terms. “Certainly God owes everyone at least a chance,” we say. Or when God fails to do something we think he should do, we say, “It just isn’t fair.” So long as we think that way we do not understand grace. Grace is God’s favor to the utterly undeserving.
  4. Kindness (v. 7). Compared to the others this word seems a bit weak, but it is not. It flows from the character of God, who is not weak. Kindness means much in our daily living as believers. In the course of our lives we often sin grievously and foolishly. But God does not strike us down when we do. He does not turn on us. Instead he is astonishingly kind. He protects us from the worst of sin’s consequences, and he speaks softly to draw us back onto the path of obedience and virtue.

Why has God acted thus? Paul’s answer is that God is love, mercy, grace, and kindness. God acts this way because that is what he is. We can only marvel that he is love, mercy, grace, and kindness in addition to being sovereign, holy, and full of wrath against sin. We praise him for it.

What Must I Do?

We are saved by God’s grace alone, but once we are saved, we inevitably want to serve the one who has been so loving to us. Are you still unsaved? If so, let this utterly unmerited love of God in Jesus Christ move and woo you. In Romans we read, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Are you already a believer? If so, let this great love of God move you to the heights of consecration and activity. The hymn writer said,

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

This is what John Calvin had in mind as he drew to the close of his exposition of these verses. He summarized wisely, “Now let us cast ourselves down before the majesty of our good God with acknowledgment of our faults, praying him to make us so to feel them that it makes us not only confess three or four of them, but also go back even to our birth and acknowledge that there is nothing but sin in us, and that there is no way for us to be reconciled to our God, but by the blood, death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“And therefore as often as we feel any regrets to turn aside from the grace of God, and to cite us before his judgment seat, let us have no other refuge than the sacrifice by which our Lord Jesus Christ has made atonement between God and us. And whenever we are weak, let us desire him to remedy it by his Holy Spirit, which is the means that he has ordained to make us partakers of all his gracious gifts. And let us so continue in the same that we may be an example to others and labour to draw them with us to the faith and unity of the doctrine, and by our life and good conversation show that we have not in vain gone to so good a school as that of the Son of God.”[2]


4 Swiftly Paul adds the good news: “But” (de) God has acted to remedy human hopelessness, for God is rich in mercy. “Mercy” (eleos, GK 1799), also translated as “compassion” or “pity,” occurs seventy-eight times in the NT, twenty-six of those in Paul’s letters. In the LXX it dominantly translated the Hebrew ḥesed (GK 2876)—God’s covenantal faithfulness to his undeserving people. In the Gospels the sick appeal to Jesus for mercy—that he show kindness by healing (e.g., Mk 10:47–48 par.). This unmerited, compassionate commitment motivates God’s rescue effort for his disobedient, wayward creatures (cf. Tit 3:5). God has decided to have mercy on all people, Jews and Gentiles (cf. Ro 11:32). In the next verses here, Paul characterizes this divine motivation as “grace” (vv. 5, 7–8).

God’s “great love” forms the second basis for his rescue of humanity. Paul commonly situates God’s actions for his people in his great love (Ro 5:5, 8; 8:39; Eph 5:2, 25). In 1:4 we saw that love was the motivation for God’s pretemporal determination to adopt his people. Here we find a kind of Semitic redundancy, where Paul uses the verb and noun together: “on account of the great love [with] which he loved us” (Paul uses both the noun agapē, GK 27, and the verb agapaō, GK 26). Not elegant in a literal translation, but the point emerges forcefully.

5 Now we discover what God’s mercy and love motivated him to do: he raised to life with Christ us who were dead in transgressions (cf. v. 1). Paul does not assert that all the dead ones will live—only “us.” In 1:20 Paul rehearsed God’s great power in bringing Jesus back to physical life. Jesus had been physically dead, and God raised him from among the dead and installed him on his heavenly throne at God’s right hand. Now we learn here that much more was riding on Jesus’ resurrection than simply the restoration of his own physical life. We who were spiritually dead were “made alive with” Christ, a composite verb prefixed with the preposition “with” (syn), which occurs only here and at Colossians 2:13 and later Christian writings dependent on these verses. In other words, those “with Christ” were raised with Christ (this redundancy being Paul’s). To relieve the redundancy, some aver that the verb might indicate “with each other,” anticipating vv. 11–22 (so Barth, 1:222). “In Christ” we were raised to a life together with other believers. Though attractive, this is unlikely: the parallel to Colossians 2:13, the essential meaning of the verb, and the pervasive concept of corporate solidarity probably point only to union “with Christ.” We participated in Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and it means we too live now. Though our physical resurrection awaits the end of the age, again Paul has brought eschatology into the present. What will happen physically has already happened spiritually, since we are “in Christ.” Formerly “dead,” we now live. Formerly dominated by the power center of the world system, we now live through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:13, 18–19).

In a brief parenthesis (repeated in v. 8) that switches back to second person “you,” Paul appends a third motivation for God’s action and then describes the event with an extremely loaded term. “Grace,” along with mercy and love, moved God to “save.” The dative case chariti (GK 5921) points to cause; grace is the basis and reason God saved. Paul pinpointed God’s grace in 1:2, 6–7, already identifying it as the motivation behind God’s decision to grant redemption and to forgive sins. This connecting of salvation and grace reflects a rare combination for Paul (see 2 Ti 1:9; Tit 2:11).

Because of God’s grace, “you have been saved” (here Paul uses the verbal form sōzō, GK 5392, the cognate of the noun for salvation he used in 1:13). Though the salvation word group can convey the physical sense of “rescue,” “deliver,” or “preserve,” the theological meaning most interests readers of Paul, who uses it to convey the grand sense of God’s rescue of his people from their sinful condition. Jesus received his very name—which means “Yahweh saves”—“because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Paul’s apostolic mission was to use all available means to “save some” (1 Co 9:22), because “God was pleased … to save those who believe” (1 Co 1:21). Paul assured his readers in Ephesians 1:13 that, because they believed the good news of salvation, God rescued them—he saved them. The good news shouts out that God saves through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead those dead in sin. Here and in v. 8 Paul employs the perfect tense of “save,” the most heavily marked Greek tense (and rarely used for “save” elsewhere and never by Paul; see Mk 5:34 par.; 10:52 par.; Lk 7:50). In so doing, he emphasizes the ongoing consequences in the present of God’s action to save. Not only did God save them, but believers enjoy the ongoing results of that salvation. They live in a saved condition.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 58–59). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (pp. 51–56). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.

[3] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 67–68). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

January 23: Pride in Disguise

Genesis 37; Matthew 26:57–27:31; Ecclesiastes 9:1–6

Sometimes recognizing our sin for what it is can throw us into deep shame. In Matthew, we find that two of Jesus’ disciples experience this moment of remorse—Judas after he betrays Jesus, and Peter when he denies Jesus. From their responses, we learn what true repentance looks like.

Judas is remorseful when he realizes the enormity of his betrayal. But he doesn’t move from remorse to repentance. He tries to absolve his guilt by returning the payment he received for betraying Jesus—an attempt to buy back his innocence. And when the “blood money” is refused and he is unable to eliminate the guilt, Judas hangs himself (Matt 27:5).

Peter, the disciple with an impulsive, childlike loyalty to Jesus, denies his Lord when questioned by a mere servant girl. When Peter remembers Jesus’ prediction, he leaves, “weeping bitterly.” However, the Gospel of John tells us that Peter glorified God in his death (John 21:15–19).

When sin is exposed, stopping at realization and remorse is tempting. Reveling in self-hate and self-loathing can seem fitting—we feel like inflicting punishment on ourselves will somehow absolve our guilt. But this is simply another form of relying on ourselves—it is pride in disguise. We diminish the sacrifice that Christ has completed. We deny the freedom from guilt and shame that Jesus has bought for us at a costly sacrifice.

It’s only when we reach the end of our self-reliance and pride that we can look to the one who actually bore the guilt for us.

How are you holding on to guilt and shame?

Rebecca Van Noord[1]


[1] Barry, J. D., & Kruyswijk, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.