Fighting Off Spiritual Defection


11 Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.    Ephesians 6:11-13     NASB

If you claim Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are part of a war like no other.  This war is not one fought on earthly soil.  This is a war that is raging in a realm that cannot be seen but has very tangible casualties in the realm we can see. This war is a spiritual war. The glorious truth is that the war has already been won through Jesus Christ.  He conquered sin and death to provide us with eternal life – a victorious eternal life.  Even though the war is ultimately won in Christ, the final battle has not yet taken place. Until that day arrives, the believer is engaged in daily struggles that require a focused attention and full use of divinely ordained weaponry and armor.  If we are going to choose to live a godly life and be obedient to the Scriptures, we will face spiritual warfare.

The Christian who is seeking to grow in his knowledge and obedience to the Lord will find that being a faithful ambassador for Christ will become harder, not easier. You can expect that as you become stronger in Christ, Satan’s attacks intensify. Consider what happened to Jesus. When He began His ministry, He battled with Satan for 40 days (Lk 4:2).  When His ministry was ending, Satan attacked Him again in the Garden of Gethsemane with such force that He sweat great drops of blood (Lk 22:44). When God gives you victory and mastery over certain temptations, Satan finds other areas for attack. With every faithful ministry and service to the Lord there will be both blessing and opposition.

Since the beginning of creation, Satan has attacked God’s people and continues to wage war against us. The attack on the church intensifies almost daily as we wait for the coming of our Lord. We must be soldiers who are fully prepared for battle. In writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul was encouraging his readers to be prepared for the battle. Later in Revelation, we find this church receiving great praise from the Lord and also a powerful condemnation. They were active in good works, persevering, intolerant of sin, opposed false teaching, and patiently endured suffering. They also were condemned for leaving their first love. They were living in one of the most corrupt cities of the Roman world with all its debauchery and immorality and yet they were able to maintain right doctrine and moral standards. But Satan’s attack on them was successful in their loss of love. Their love for God had waned, which probably resulted in a loss of love for each other as well. The thrill of their salvation was gone, enthusiasm for service was low, and their lives became a factory of mere pious habits.

The defection of the church of Ephesus is a battle that still rages today in the 21st century church.  Sometimes spiritual defection is intentional through open rebellion and rejection of God. Other times, the defection is so subtle that we do not recognize the drift until it is too late.  We fill our lives with so many other things that our priorities shift and the defection begins. Spiritual defection often begins when we start forgetting the joy of our salvation and we lose sight of the practical ways we can love God and each other. An evidence of that defection is when we are no longer passionate about learning the Scriptures. That defection plummets further when our faithfulness to meet together and encourage one another is replaced by other “priorities.”  When we are no longer concerned about praying for each other or for the furtherance of the kingdom, we are in danger of losing that first love. If our focus in worship shifts from glorifying God and ascribing praise to Him towards that of selfish responses of complaint and murmurs, our defection deepens.

We must be always on the alert for Satan’s attacks on us lest we suffer the same fate as this church of Ephesus. Just because we have a high view of the Scriptures and obedience to it, we are not exempt from Satan’s scheming. If we lose our deep love for the Lord we are on the brink of spiritual disaster. If we are going to be successful in this spiritual warfare, we must be prepared for the battle. We must recognize that battles will occur and can occur daily. To find victory in the daily battles, God gave us all the spiritual weaponry and defenses we need and they must be employed.

As Paul concludes this wonderful letter, he encourages his readers to face the battle with strength knowing that God has fully equipped them for victory.  This great passage of Scripture provides wonderful counsel for us to be victorious in the daily battles of spiritual warfare. First, we must be prepared by remembering that being in Christ provides us with God’s strength.  God’s strength is always sufficient to fight every battle. The amount of strength we possess is not important.  It is the source of our strength that makes the difference between winning and losing. You must also know your enemy. Satan is very real and he is not some mischievous imp seeking to simply cause trouble.  Scripture describes him as a lion on the prowl seeking to devour you.  His schemes can be very effective and his minions are highly organized. Satan and his forces rage an ongoing wrestling match with God by seeking to destroy the things and people of God – the church. Our greatest enemy is not the person we disagree with the most. Our greatest enemy is the one who controls the philosophies and actions of godless cultures and peoples.  As long as he is free to roam, the battle for our minds and hearts rages on.  You and I must recognize that we are in a war against a powerful foe with highly organized and equally effective companions whose goal is to devour you and bring your life to ruins.  He will stop at nothing to keep you from glorifying God. There is no mercy or grace with him.  Remember that all though Satan is powerful, he is not all powerful.  Only God holds that honor.  Greater is He that is in you, than he that is the world.  Thirdly, make sure you are dressed for battle. Because our battle is not with flesh and blood but with supernatural forces, it is imperative we do not fight with our own power. We must be equipped with the full armor of God. It must be put on and taken up. Every day is a day we fight against the forces of sin and evil. Our responsibility is to resist and stand firm. God has provided us with everything we need to withstand the assaults of the evil one. Hold your ground! Don’t give up! Stay in the fray! You are already assured victory!

Believer, we must stay vigilant and not lose heart. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness.  He has equipped us all with all the spiritual defenses and weaponry we need to not only fight the battles, but to be victorious in the battles. If believers will stand together, in full battle gear, we can fight off the defection. We cannot, we must not lose our love for Christ and love for each other. Satan and his cohorts are going to attack us relentlessly. He will also attack us corporately and individually.  Satan and his surrogates continually scheme against us to keep us from glorifying God and bringing people to Him.  When he attacks you, he attacks all of us.  Take up the armor and fight.  Don’t lose sight of love. Love God more and love each other more to provide the encouragement we all need (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Let us run the race with endurance knowing we are completely and eternally His. Rest in the fact that we are fully equipped for this life and the life He has promised us in Glory.

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Getting Out of the Rut!


…that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.   Eph. 4:22-24     NASB

 Years ago when the western U.S. was being settled, roads were often just wagon tracks. These rough trails posed serious problems for those who journeyed on them. On one of these winding paths was posted a sign which read: “Avoid this rut or you’ll be in it for the next 25 miles!” “Avoid this rut or you’ll be in it for the next 25 miles!” can literally describe many of us in the daily routines of life. If we are truly honest, all of us, at some point in our lives, have had or continue to have certain things we say, do, or think that make us wish we would have heeded the signs to avoid that rut.

Another name for those ruts in our lives is habits. In the dictionary, we discover that a habit is a usual manner of behavior, a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition. They are learned ways of living. Habits are created when something is done repeatedly until it becomes a pattern…the proverbial rut. They may be actions, attitudes, or patterns of thinking that have become so ingrained they are second nature. Habits are not necessarily evil. In fact they can be considered a gift from God. If it weren’t for habits we would have to continually relearn everything. Learning how to walk is one example. Once it is learned, walking is so habitual that we rarely think about it. Or even our morning and evening rituals are another example. Some things simply become habits because they scarcely require much thought. Habits can be unlearned as well. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 describe people whose lives had been characterized by sinful habituations. The emphasis in that text is on the past tense.

A simple understanding of 2 Corinthians 5:17 teaches us that every aspect of our lives, including our habits, experiences a great transformation the very moment we trust Christ.  Your new nature is not added to your old nature, it replaces it. You are not (to use today’s vocabulary) a spiritual schizophrenic. A robust biblical theology recognizes the Bible does not teach that a Christian has two different natures. You have one – a new nature in Christ. The old self dies and the new self lives – they do not coexist. So why do we still sin? We still sin because sin still resides in the flesh. Our flesh inhibits and restrains us from being able to express our new nature fully and perfectly. Our new nature resides in a body that is corrupted by sin. In position you are totally transformed.  In practice you are not wholly perfected. Sin still resides, but it doesn’t reign. However, even though sin still exists in our flesh, we cannot excuse it in our lives. There must be evidence of life change. If you are going to claim to be a follower of Christ, then there must be a change in the way you think and act.

If you are going to live like God intends then you have to stop following the example of the world, because the world does not follow God.  On the basis of who you are in Christ, you are to be absolutely distinct from the world. It ought to be crystal clear that you now have a relationship with Christ. The image of Christ in your life ought to be the highest definition possible. You are to stop following the example of the world because the world is driven by a feeling orientation. When it comes to spiritual and moral issues, the unbelieving world cannot think straight.  It is warped and inadequate and doesn’t produce the kind of thinking that leads to Godliness. It is empty and amounts to nothing. The evidence existent within our culture proves to us that the further we go in pursuing knowledge apart from God, the deeper into sin man plunges. When people turn themselves from a life with God, they become apathetic and insensitive to spiritual and moral things. They reject all standards of what is right and wrong. No care is given to the consequences of wrong thoughts or actions. Worldly thinking is man choosing to determine his own way, to do things his own way, pursue his own destiny, cutting himself off from God. It is a desire to live by feelings that will never truly be satisfied. None of that ought to be true about the real believer.

To get out of the rut it is imperative to start living the way God intended by being centered on Christ. You cannot have a life that is centered on Christ and pursue goals that are contrary to God’s standards. Being Christ – centered means your life has a new purpose, pleasing God. God also wants you to live being truth or principle oriented.  Instead of being ignorant of God’s truth you have responded to it and it becomes your rule of life. The Scriptures formulate the boundaries and framework from which we all must filter our choices. God also wants us to be continually growing and changing by putting off the old self, changing our thinking, and putting on the new self. The “old man” exists in those habits that you’ve been developing from the day you were born – it’s those old sinful habits that need to be put off.  But if you are going to change – you have to be renewed in the spirit of your mind because change starts on the inside, not the outside. Trying to change my behavior without changing my thinking will not produce lasting change. When was the last time you admitted you had a sinful habit because your thinking was wrong? Putting on the new self means we replace those old sinful habits with righteousness and true holiness.  We must put on thoughts, actions, words, and attitudes that measure up to the standard of holiness in Christ.

The pattern for lasting growth for the believer is this: Put off sinful habits…change your thinking to be more biblical thinking…and put on the righteous Godly habits. This is called the principle of replacement. After you’ve identified what needs to be put off, and renewed your thinking to be more in line with what God says about it, you then must also go to work with the power of Spirit, to develop the exact opposite habit of behaving and put it on in its place. If you put off something and don’t put anything on in its place you will go back to it.

As a believer, you have to make a choice of which life you want to live. The choice you make will become evident in the daily patterns of your life, your habits.  As you see yourself right now, what would the preponderance of evidence point to? Do your habits communicate you are living out more of the old man with its feeling orientation or are you living out the new man that is principle/truth oriented? The unbeliever is driven by self and wants to make self happy. The believer is to be driven by principles/truth of the Word of God and want to make God happy.  If you want lasting biblical change to occur in your life, if you want to get out of the rut of sinful habituation, then you must follow God’s pattern, not the worlds. Employ the principle of replacement.

You have two choices before you.  The difference now is that your new nature in Christ enables you to make the right one.

If you would like to know more about this,  I invite you to visit Maranatha Bible Church in Van Buren this Sunday as we explore this text in our continued study of Ephesians.  We truly are blessed beyond measure.  It is time we believers started living like it!

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Christianity is NOT a Spectator Sport!


…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.    Eph. 3:16-19 NASB

Americans love their sports. To be a fan means that to some degree you are fanatical. From elementary programs to professional sports, people will go to great lengths to support their local or state teams. From bodies being covered head to toe with paint or the display of outrageous costumes and props, even when their team is lack luster, there still exists a level of support for “the team”.

As a sports official, I have seen and heard many things from the fan base at local junior high and high school athletic events that sometimes makes you just shake your head in disbelief that people can take sports so seriously. I have seen fans (mostly parents or grandparents) come after coaches for not playing their child enough. Others I officiate with have seen fans throw things on to the court or field that could potentially inflict bodily harm, all because something happened that affected their team that they didn’t like. I can’t repeat some of the things I have heard from various people in the stands and along the sidelines who clearly disapprove with a call or non-call. Sometimes altercations break out between fans, or fans to officials or even fans to athletes.   Notice the common thread, the attitudes of the fans have a direct influence on the event.

I wonder how many of us have simply become a “fan” of Christianity? We faithfully attend every event and cheer on the ministry of the church. (There is nothing wrong with this.) Occasionally you might here a “You the man, pastor, preach it like it is”. Or perhaps someone might say, “Come check us out. Our church has this great program for kids.”, or “Look at what all God has given us with our huge campus and great facilities”. Every church ought to have those cheerleaders that proclaim, “Our music is so good that when you worship with us, you KNOW you have truly worshiped”. Sometimes though, the “fan base” is not so excited with the performance of “the team”. We express our dissatisfaction with the “play calling or officiating” by being quick to criticize who or what does not meet our expectations. “Pastor, you’ve gone too far and now you are meddling”. “Why are we doing that, how’s that going to put behinds in the seats?” “Have you seen the condition of our bathrooms lately, what are we paying the custodian for if the bathrooms are going to look like that?” “Don’t you think it is about time we sing more hymns? I get tired of singing the same phrase over and over and over again. (Did you ever stop to think about what we will sing in heaven, Holy, Holy, Holy?) “We need to sing more contemporary songs because nobody knows what “Here I raise my Ebenezer” means anyway.” (Look at 1 Samuel 7 and you’ll discover what an Ebenezer is). The “fan base” seems to grow larger when it comes to serving in the church?  “I’ve done my time; let someone else carry the ball”. “I’m not talented enough.” “I’m not educated enough.” “I’m not worthy enough.” “You don’t know my past.” “I just don’t have the time”

The “fan” of Christianity is the one who looks around and sees the “team” God has assembled and is content to simply know they are on the team. There is no spirit of “put me in coach, I’m ready to play”. When adversity comes, the thought process is to disengage and hope the difficulty passes by quickly. There’s no sense of when a teammate is down and hurting to come alongside and help carry the burden. When the “local team” appears to be losing or struggling, or there is a dissatisfaction with the “play calling” they  abandon it and become a fan of some other team being content to sit on the sideline there. The “participant”, on the other hand, is the one who strives to see life and all its hardships as opportunities to glorify God. “I don’t know how God wants to use me but I am willing to do whatever is needed to minister to others.” “I believe God is with me in this adversity and that He will work all things for my good and His glory.” I am sorry you are hurting, let me pray with you and for you. How can I best care for you.” “I know God has a plan for us and I am in this with you for the long haul no matter what it takes.”

So what makes the “fan” and the “participant” so different? The difference lies within the inner man. The heart that is not growing and changing will never be more than a “fan”. The heart that is empowered by God is strengthened in the inner man to keep going and become a more faithful“participant”. The “fan” is the believer who doesn’t mature beyond the elementary truths, never learning to apply the truth. Church is all about what they want. There is a contentment to sit on the sidelines, taking in the Word, but not being changed by it, simply going through the motions in their relationship with God. It is okay to complain about the church not meeting my needs, but don’t ask me to contribute to the needs of others. The “participant” is the believer who is maturing in Christ, desiring to know more of God’s Word (“the playbook”), learning how to use it, seeking to glorify God and please Him.  They are faithfully looking for and getting involved in areas of service because they are being changed by their relationship with God. The writer of Hebrews said it best, Hebrews 5:12-14 “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.   So to move from being a “fan” to a “participant” God must intervene. God has intervened by providing the believer with abundant riches in Christ. Now He stands ready to empower those riches in your life.

The context of the verses above teach us what is required to move from being a “fan” to being a “participant”.  It takes the empowerment of God in our inner man.  Although the outward man is wasting away, we can be renewed daily in our inner man.  When that happens, marvelous things will follow.  When the Holy Spirit has empowered us, Christ has indwelt us, love has mastered us, and God has filled us with His own fullness, then He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. There is no question that God is able to do more than we can conceive. However, few Christians enjoy the privilege of seeing God do much more in their lives because they fail to follow the pattern of enablement outlined in this text. They are content to be a fan instead of a participant.

Do you want to see God do more in your life? Do you want to see your church grow stronger? Then stop being a fan and get in the game.  If you think your church is struggling or losing ground, then maybe it’s time for you to get off the bench or out of the stands and enter the “game” by becoming a full participant in the life God desires for you.

 

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Who Doesn’t Like A Mystery?


…to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,  Eph. 3:6  NASB

A lot of things about life are full of mysteries. Some mysteries are profound. Like how the sea is strangely married to the moon controlling the tides. Another great mystery is how the planets never skip a revolution around the sun.  Time is consistent 24 hours a day. Some are not so profound but are just as baffling and sometimes even humorous. In every home is the mystery of the washing machine. What happens to the twelve perfectly matched pairs of socks you KNOW you put in the machine when all you can find is eight matched pairs? Somewhere between the washing machine and the dryer is the Land of the Lost Socks.  Where it is no one really knows.  It cannot be seen by your natural eyes.

Many people are intrigued by mysteries. In fact, one study showed that the mystery genre is what Americans read most, accounting for 17% of all books sold. Most people look at a mystery as something that is difficult to explain or understand. They are often stories where a problem, crime, or puzzle must be solved. Mysteries often contain secrets or hidden qualities that must be also be solved. There may be information that is unknown and must be explained. Professional detectives and sleuths seek out clues to solve mysteries. To solve a mystery, people must use their skills at deductive reasoning.

In Webster’s dictionary a mystery is defined as “a religious truth known by revelation alone; something not understood or beyond understanding; a work of fiction dealing with the solution of a mysterious crime.” What I find fascinating is that in the dictionary the number one definition of a mystery is “a religious truth known by revelation alone.” The word “mystery” actually appears in the New Testament and fits Webster’s definition of a “religious truth known by revelation alone.” Whatever we learn about this mystery can only be known because God reveals it to us.

In Ephesians 3:1-13, Paul uses the word “mystery” three times.  Paul really wanted to make sure his readers understood what he was talking about before he moved on to something else.  In the previous section, verses 11-22, Paul discussed the fact that God broke down every barrier that separated us from Him and each other. Not only did God break down the wall, He united every believer, Jew and Gentile alike, into one body and called them the church. How God could take Jews and Gentiles from every walk of life and unite them into one body was a complete mystery.  Paul wanted his readers to have a greater understanding of what it means to be united into one body.

God uses the mystery of the church to reveal and proclaim His glory. The concept of Jews being united with Gentiles was revolutionary in Paul’s day. The Old Testament does speak of Gentiles being blessed by God, receiving the Holy Spirit, and being saved by the Messiah. But to put them in the same body with Jews was equivalent with saying that lepers were not to be isolated and were free to intermingle as normal members of society. All believers share the same status with God. Being fellow heirs means that Gentiles and Jews share the same legal status of being God’s chosen people. Being fellow members links us together in life with all those who claim Christ. There are no second class citizens in God’s kingdom.  We are not distant relatives twice removed.   All those who claim Christ as their Savior are positionally in the same perfect and new society. For this unity to be lived out practically, every Christian must realize this and make an active choice to think about and treat each other as equals. The mystery of the church teaches us that we should be working together for the cause of Christ instead of attacking each other for the cause of self.

Paul’s mission was to bring to light how this unity in Christ affected the way he lived on a daily basis and how he ministered to other believers. He dedicated his life to fulfilling God’s calling to proclaim reconciliation to all.  Paul recognized that every believer was to proclaim that truth. He understood that God was the one who called him and gave him his marching orders.  Nothing about Paul qualified him to be a minister of God’s grace. Same is true of us. It is all about God. All we have is a gift from God as a result of His grace. Paul had such a clear understanding of God. He had a clear understanding of how far short of God’s standard he had fallen. To the end of his life, Paul never became proud of all “he had accomplished”. Instead he continued to be overwhelmed by his sin and sense of unworthiness. That is the key to being used so greatly by God. Until we comprehend all that God has accomplished on our behalf, we will struggle to live in obedience. How have God’s riches changed you?

One of the ways God’s riches can change us is in our response to suffering.  Don’t lose heart when you suffer for him. You have the privilege of direct access to God through faith. Under the Old Testament economy only the High Priest had direct access to God. Under the economy of grace, every believer has direct access. You can come to God at any time in any place. You can come in faith with boldness (not flippantly or irreverently) and confidence. Don’t grieve over your circumstances or the circumstances of other believers because you KNOW that God is working everything for His glory and your goodness. Your access to God means He is with you in your trial.

Don’t hoard the riches. God made you a part of the church, His body, so you could proclaim His greatness.  Don’t be content to sit on the sidelines and not participate in ministry.  God has called and equipped every believer to proclaim His life changing message.  Keep your head up. We are all in this together. When you or other believers suffer for the cause of Christ, rejoice knowing that God uses the suffering to bring others to Him or to help other believers glorify Him. Your position in Christ has secured your blessing and riches.  If you handle suffering the way God desires, your life will be a testimony to others of the goodness and grace of God.  It is at that point, you have the greatest opportunity to see them come to Christ.

The mystery of the church is God’s illustration to the angels of his multifaceted wisdom. What picture do they see from watching you?

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Zombies Are Real!


And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Eph. 2:1 & 2    NASB

There is a TV show on cable entitled The Walking Dead.  Just so you know, I have never watched, nor do I plan to ever watch, a single episode of this show. I am not an expert on this program at all.  I am not even sure what the draw of the show really is, but it attracts the most 18-49 year old viewers of any cable or broadcast television series.  The premise of the show is that the lead character awakens from a coma and discovers a world overrun by zombies, commonly known as “walkers.”  He finds his family and becomes the leader of a group he forms with other survivors.  Together, this group struggles to survive in a post-apocalyptic world of zombies and other opposing groups of survivors.  Sometimes, even the survivors are worse than the zombies.

Now as I tell my eight year old, who also has never seen the show, zombies are not real. They are pretend.  But then as I read in Ephesians, I discover that zombies are real.  Plain and simple, a zombie is a “dead person who is alive.” Spiritually speaking we are all born zombies.

According to what God reveals to us in Ephesians, we are all born “zombies,” i.e. the “walking dead”:

Eph. 2:1-3  And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. NASB. 

Right there is living proof (pun intended) that zombies are real – spiritual zombies.  From the moment of our birth we are dead spiritually.  Man does not BECOME spiritually dead because he sins, he is spiritually dead because by nature he is sinful. Because of Adam’s rebellious choice in the Garden, every man, woman and child is cursed with a sin nature. Romans 5:12Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. Death is spread to all men, because all sinned.  That means our condition from birth is that we are dead even though we live.  We are dead to God, dead to spiritual life, dead to truth, dead to righteousness, dead to inner peace and happiness, dead to ultimately all that is truly good. A person who is spiritually dead has no life by which he/she can respond to spiritual things. The spiritually dead individual is separated from God and therefore separated from life. Every human being is born a spiritual zombie. Zombies are the walking dead who don’t know they are dead. They go through the motions of life, but do not possess it. We are dead in our trespasses and sins, meaning we were born into the realm of sin. We were not dead because we committed sin but because we are IN SIN. One does not become a liar when they tell a lie; he tells a lie because he already is a liar. One does not become a thief when he steals; he steals because he already is a thief. Committing sinful acts does not MAKE us sinners. We commit sinful acts because we ARE sinners. That is indicative of our heart’s condition. All mankind is guilty of falling short of God’s standard for holiness. As a result, we are considered children of wrath – meaning that what we deserve is for God to pour out all His anger and wrath upon us because we violated His standards. What we deserve is death, “for the wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23.

From everything I have ever read or heard from teenagers and other “experts” about fighting zombies, there is no cure.  However, there is a cure from being a “spiritual zombie.”  “But God” is perhaps the greatest exception clause to ever be written.  Being a child of wrath is not the end of the story. God acted on our behalf. God is rich in mercy. Mercy is God withholding from you what you truly deserve: death. God in His mercy made it possible for us to be made alive in Him.  Through Jesus Christ, we no longer need to exist as spiritual zombies.  Through God’s intervention, salvation has come to all men.  There is nothing you can do to earn it, because then you would have reason to boast.  Your salvation is completely of God.  Eph. 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. NASB.  Once you have been made truly alive, everything about you changes.  You are no longer a spiritual zombie. You are a living soul with divine purpose. God wants us to be a trophy of His grace, not a mindless zombie who wanders aimlessly. God saves us so that our lives will be a constant showcase of His goodness and mercy.

Perhaps it’s time for you to stop walking around like a zombie.  If you have trusted Christ, you are alive, and God wants you to live in that new position and enjoy the abundant life that is available in Him.

 

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Open Your Eyes


“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” Eph. 1:17 NASB

Perhaps you’ve heard the following humorous anecdote: A man was being pursued by a roaring, hungry lion. Feeling the beast’s hot breath on his neck and knowing his time was short, he prayed as he ran. He cried out in desperation, “0 Lord, please make this lion a Christian.” Within seconds, the frightened man became aware the lion had stopped the chase. When he looked behind him, he found the lion kneeling, lips moving in obvious prayer. Greatly relieved at this turn of events – and desirous of joining the lion in meditation – he approached the king of the jungle. When he was near enough, he heard the lion praying, “And bless, 0 Lord, this food for which I’m exceedingly grateful!”

 Often when we see trouble “chasing” us, or has “caught” us, that becomes the time we turn to God in prayer. At those moments we pray that God would give us the strength, power, grace, faith, etc. to face that trouble or make that trouble more bearable or (better yet) end it altogether. Sometimes our prayers become “Give me more power,” “Give me more strength,” “Give me more faith,” etc. Then, when we don’t receive more, we tend to want to stop praying altogether, believing God is not interested in answering our prayers. The temptation to give up is rooted in a belief that the only answer to our prayer is the desired answer.  Instead, what we really need is to pray that God would open our eyes to the strength, power, faith, grace, mercy, etc. He has already given us to face those difficulties head on!

Our lives as believers would be much more fulfilling and much more effective for Christ if we would only open our eyes and recognize that God has given us an abundance of riches in Christ and to allow those riches to affect the way we live. I contend that if we were simply more aware of our position in Christ (and had a greater understanding of that position) our lives would be a constant display of God’s power that is already at work in us.  I simply base that conclusion on what God reveals through Paul in Ephesians.

In the context of chapter one, we discover the riches we have in Christ and how abundantly they have been given to us.  Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers to be more aware of those riches and gain a greater understanding of what it means to be “in Him.” He wanted them to know how marvelously they had been blessed and to appreciate the limitless riches they possessed in Christ. He didn’t want them to go through life constantly searching for that which God had already given to them. Believers today tragically entangle themselves with pursuits for something more out of the Christian life; they want something special… they want something that the “ordinary” Christian life does not possess. You hear talk today of people wanting more of Christ or more of the Spirit, more strength, more hope, more peace, more love, a deeper life, more blessings… the list goes on. The prevailing thought is that the resources of God are dispensed or doled out by prescription. To some, it seems as if it is unlocked by some magical spiritual combination that only a few select believers can know or even practice. Friends, there are no spiritual resources in a reserve tank or vault that will be parceled out to those who meet certain “extra” criteria. I remind you that God has given you EVERYTHING you need. If you have experienced new birth in Christ, then you have been gifted with everything in Christ. There is no need to spend time or energy in the vain pursuits of that which God has already given. You don’t need salvation plus [insert anything here] to have the spiritual life God desires. You don’t need to pray for God’s light – just follow the light you already have. You don’t need to pray for strength – just use the strength He has already given in Christ. You don’t need to pray for peace – God has already given you a peace that is beyond comprehension. You don’t need to pray for grace – His supply of grace is sufficient. What you need in those moments of trial and distress is for God to grant you the wisdom and obedience necessary to appropriate the abundance of riches He has provided. Our problem is not a lack of blessings. Our problem is a lack of insight and wisdom to fully understand how to use them properly and faithfully.

Every believer needs to recognize that the power existent within them can never be overthrown or negated because of who supplied it. Because of who Jesus is, that power which is yours far surpasses that of Satan and his hosts who work to defeat it. Because Jesus has a unique relationship with the believer, all His power will be used on our behalf so that we can fulfill our purpose. We are guaranteed to come to glory so that we would manifest His praise.

If you have trusted in Christ as your Savior, then God has secured your position and equipped you with all the power and resources you need for life on this earth.  We know that believers cannot lose their salvation because God promised us an eternal inheritance.  We do however, lose our effectiveness when our focus shifts from the Savior to self.  “Remember Jesus” and stay focused on Him.  Allow your relationship with Him and the power that already exists in you to be manifested in your life as the Holy Spirit empowers you to obey the Word of God.

If you simply open your eyes and become more aware of what you already possess in Christ, you will find that God has equipped you with all you need. Walking in obedience to the Scripture will provide the fulfillment you seek.  Stop wasting time trying to pursue that which God has already supplied. Instead, pray that your eyes would be enlightened so that you gain the wisdom and understanding necessary to put into practice what you already know and possess.

The more aware you are of your eternal riches in Christ, the more your life will display God’s mighty power that is already present and working in you.

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Getting Rich Quick


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.   Ephesians 1:3

Getting rich quick seems to be an endeavor many people in our time wish were possible. Some even diligently pursue every scheme imaginable to achieve it.  What if I could prove to you that it is possible to “get rich quick?” If you are thinking this article is about another “scheme” to get rich it is not.  The riches I am writing about are not the temporal, material possessions that fade or rust or can be stolen.  The riches I am writing about are the ones entrenched in Christ.  If you want to really get rich quick, then you must be found “in Christ.”

That is where it starts: being in Christ. To be in Christ, there must be an acknowledgement that you are spiritually bankrupt and cannot earn heaven’s riches on your own. Heaven’s riches can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. All the blessings of heaven will be yours in Christ when you repent of sin, seek His forgiveness, confess Him as Lord of your life, and believe that He rose again – all for you! It is at that moment, God takes you and transfers you from the kingdom of darkness into His kingdom of light.  He declares you righteous; you are in Christ.  Once you have been declared by God to be in Christ, your position is now secure and now you must take possession of those riches that come with that position and allow God to enrich your lives with them, practically. That is what the book of Ephesians is about: being in Christ.  God speaks to us through this letter to identify the origin of our heavenly riches and how they ought to impact us from a practical standpoint.

The city of Ephesus was best known for its Temple of Diana, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Ephesus was also an important political, educational and commercial center, a great city in its time. Some have even equated it with Alexandria in Egypt. It was a city of great wealth and prosperity. Yet with all the wealth, the populous was still in need.  There was such a spiritual poverty within that city that God used Aquila and Priscilla, who were left there by Paul on his second missionary journey, to establish a church that would minister the gospel (see Acts 18).  Later, Paul would return on his third journey to help establish this church more firmly (Acts 19 & 20). Using the mindset of wealth, to which his readers would be acutely attuned, Paul wrote this letter to them so they would know how God has enriched their lives and that, by taking possession of their divine riches, their lives can change. Our lives can change too, much like those in Ephesus.

Like much of Paul’s writings, Ephesians is full of doctrine and practice. Paul takes the first half of his letter to identify the doctrinal truths that provide the foundation of our riches, all of which are found “in Christ.”  The second half of his letter is full of practical truths. Paul shares how sound doctrine ought to impact the life of every believer. The riches provided for all of us in Christ are enough for us to be different in the way we handle life. The way we handle adversity ought to communicate the abundant resource we have in our relationship with God. The Christian home ought to be place where conflicts are handled with the riches found in Christ, our interactions communicating that God is building the house. The Christian teenager and young adult have enough riches in Christ that they can build godly relationships without searching for satisfaction in sexual pleasures outside of marriage.  All of us have enough resources in Christ to pursue pleasing God as our top priority.  The riches this world offers will never compare to all the riches we have in Christ. If believers would recognize the riches they already possess in Christ, and allow those riches to have an impact on the way they think and live, the message of the cross would ring much louder and clearer to those they seek to reach.

In my humble opinion, far too many believers have become so consumed with material pursuits they have forgotten the wealth of spiritual blessings they have in their relationship with Christ.  By not taking advantage of those resources, many believers lose their effectiveness for Christ because their lives are often characterized by defeat and continual discouragement. Some Christian homes are filled with strife and anguish because they are trying to build their house apart from God and his requirements for spousal responsibilities in marriage. Christian teens and young adults get involved in sex before marriage because they are seeking to define themselves in their relationships with others, instead of finding satisfaction in Christ and living as He desires.

God has truly blessed us beyond measure. I invite you to study this book along with us at Maranatha Bible Church in Van Buren.  The truth is that, if we consider our position in Christ as being eternally secure, we then take possession of that position and allow it to change our thinking and behavior. There is no room for discouragement and despair when we are rejoicing in the truth that all of God’s treasures in Christ are ours because we are in Christ. Stop living like spiritual paupers.  God has abundantly poured out more than we need to live as spiritually wealthy citizens of heaven.

If you are in Christ, don’t let the snares of this life weigh upon you so heavily that you forget how much your life has been enriched by the grace of God in redeeming you for His glory.

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