Welcome to Expositing Ephesians

THIS BLOG IS DEDICATED to one of the chief passions of my life and ministry, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. I believe this epistle is at the very core of the Christian life. I spent years in the study of it and then three and one half years expositing it from my pulpit. I hope this blog will be a blessing to you as I share that exposition. I also hope you will tell others about this blog. Please check for new posts each Monday .

Monday, December 26, 2011

Is Love Enough?

The word love in Ephesians 2:4-5—But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,  (by grace ye are saved)—should cause us to ask a question. We hear much about God’s love today. We hear such clichés as “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” and other such sentimental saying. But is love actually enough to save us?

The beloved preacher and “radio pastor” J. Vernon McGee, who went to be with the Lord on December 1, 1988, recounts an incident that dramatically illustrates this. Back in the hippie days, he led a Bible class in San Diego. One day a young man approached McGee to talk. The young fellow was quite a sight. He had the word love written all over his clothes, his hat, his coat, down both legs of his pants, and even on his shoes. McGee asked him, “Why in the world do you have love written all over you?” He replied, “Man, God is love.” “Well,” McGee said, “I agree with you. Nothing could be truer than that.” But then the young man added, “God saves us by His love,” to which McGee said, “I don’t agree with that. God doesn’t save us by His love. Can you give me a verse that says He does?” The young fellow scratched his head and thought a while, admitted he couldn’t think of one, and then asked, “Well, if God doesn’t save us by love, then how does He save us?” McGee answered, “Very frankly, I’m glad you asked me that question because the Bible says, ‘By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.’ God saves us by His grace.” Then the young man wanted to know the difference. This is how McGee explained it to him:

“God cannot, on the basis of His love, open the back door of heaven and slip us in under cover of darkness. He can’t let down the bars of heaven at the front door and bring us in because of His love. God is also light. God is the moral ruler of this universe. God is righteousness. He is holy and He is good. That adds up to one thing: God cannot do things that are wrong—that is, wrong according to His own standard. So God couldn’t save us by love. Love had God strapped—we could say it put Him in a bind. He could love without being able to save. I thought you would quote John 3:16 to me. Let’s look at what that verse says: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Does it say God so loved the world that He saved the world? No, that’s exactly what it doesn’t say. God so loved this world that He gave His only begotten Son. You see, God couldn’t save the world by love because He goes on to say, ‘that whosoever believeth in him should not perish.’ You and I are going to perish. We’re lost sinners, and God still loves us, but the love of God can’t bring us into heaven. God had to provide a salvation, and He paid the penalty for our sins. Now a God of love can reach out His hands to a lost world and say, ‘If you will believe in My Son, because He died for you—if you will come on that basis—I can save you.’ God doesn’t save us by His love. God saves us by His grace.”

Oh, we do thank God for His great love, but as great as that love was, it was not enough. The so-called “Gospel of Love” being preached today is a false Gospel (Gal. 1:8-9). While God’s “love is the groundwork of our salvation,” something else is needed to build the structure. And that “structure” leads us to the third word that details our reconciliation to God.

Monday, December 19, 2011

God’s Love

In Ephesians 2:4-5—But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,  (by grace ye are saved)—Paul mentions the second of three words that details our reconciliation to God—love.

We have seen love mentioned before in Ephesians, but let us go deeper. Perhaps the best way to define the Greek word agapē is “a self‑emptying self‑sacrifice.” God’s love is often viewed today as some sort of shallow senti­mentality, but God’s love is deeper than we can ever comprehend. When the average person today says “love,” they do not even know what they are saying because they do not mean “a self-emptying self‑sacrifice.” Love today is more “self‑gratifying” than “self‑emptying.”

To go deeper, it is interesting to note that in secular Greek  agapē was actually rather colorless. As one Greek authority explains, agapē originally carried an element of sympathy and spoke of the love of a person of higher rank for one of a lower rank; it even went so far as to speak of a love that was not self‑seeking. But the Lord Jesus transformed the word; it took on the much deeper meaning of being TOTALLY SACRIFICIAL. As the same authority says, “[It] thus creates a new people who will tread the way of self-sacrificing love that [Christ] took.” We, therefore, humbly offer the following definition of God’s love: “A self‑emptying self‑sacrifice in which God gave of Himself in the form of His only begotten Son Who gave His life for us.”

Every time I think of that definition I immediately think of Scripture references that illustrate it, such as, “But God commendeth His [self‑emptying self‑sacri­fice] toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8) and, “For God [had such a self‑emptying self‑sacrifice for] the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).
One cannot help but notice that “ultimate contrast” in these verses. We were sinners, But God loved us. Oh, here is real love!

As if it were not enough to speak of God’s love, Paul adds more; he points out God’s great love. The basic meaning of the Greek (polus) is “much or great.” But when used figuratively, as it is here, it conveys the idea of intensity. In other words, Paul is not speaking so much of the volume of God’s love as much as he is its passion. Many of us enjoy do­ing certain things in life; at times we all pursue a hobby or other interest “intensely.” But if we could multiply this by infinity, we would even then only scratch the surface of the love of God.

Further, notice the word for (dia), which literally means “because of” or “on account of.” Putting it all together it reads, “But God, Who is rich in mercy, because of His intense love. . .” Mercy is the result of God’s love. Think of it! God’s love is so intense that He had mercy on us who did not deserve it. God has shown mercy because He loves us.

This Truth immediately begs the question, “Why does God love us?” In all my years of ministry, the only answer I have ever come to is this: I don’t know. When we look at verses 1‑3 from the human perspective, there is no reason God should or would love us, but He does.

Monday, December 12, 2011

God’s Mercy

Ephesians 2:4-5 declare: But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,  (by grace ye are saved). Someone has rightly said that if you want to understand salvation as it is presented in Scripture, read these verses a thousand times. How profound that is! One cannot understand salvation unless he grasps the meaning of these verses. They do, indeed, present the very essence of salvation, which is God’s intervention into the plight of man to reconcile him. How has God brought about our salvation? How has He reconciled us? Reconciliation means “to restore to friendship, compatibility, or harmony.” We recall that God’s ultimate purpose is to restore the unity between man and Him­self so man can glorify Him. So, with the dramatic contrast of But God firmly entrenched in our minds and hearts, we are now ready to see the three pivotal words in this passage that detail our reconciliation to God: mercy, love, and grace.

The first word that captures our attention is mercy. A simple definition of mercy is “the withholding of deserved punishment and relieving distress.” The Greek is eleos, which speaks of “compassion, pity.” One Greek lexicon tells us, “Kindness or good will towards the miserable and afflicted, joined with a desire to relieve them.” So, mercy is obviously always to the helpless. Moreover, in light of verses 1‑3, we deserve the affliction, but God relieves it. We deserve all the affliction, misery, distress, depression, and heart­ache that comes our way; we deserve the domination of the world, Satan, and the flesh; we deserve God’s wrath. But God is merciful; He relieves us.

Not only do we see the word mercy, but there is an adjective attached to it—rich. The Greek is plousios (the adjective form of the noun ploutos) and is the source of English words such as “plutonic.” In the technical sense the word refers to material riches. But in the general sense the word speaks of wealth or abundance in a particular area. For example, one might be “rich in wisdom,” that is, having an abun­dance of wisdom. It is significant that Paul never used plousios in the material sense of the word; he was no interested in riches as man thinks of them. He always used the word to speak of God, Christ, or even the believer. Many teachers today teach their “prosperity doctrines” and say that God has promised to bless his people with monetary riches. Such teachings, however, do not plumb with Scripture. The New Testament makes it clear that coming to Christ might cost us everything. Paul never spoke of such shallow and worldly things; rather, he spoke of spiri­tual riches.

So, God shows mercy in true abundance. The New Testament word for mercy is quite similar to the Old Testament word hesed, which carries the idea of “free acts of rescue or deliverance.” Furthermore, as we read in Psalm 103:8, “God is plenteous in mercy.” Oh, how marvelous is God’s mercy! Again, we de­serve our afflictions, But God relieves them.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

“But God”

BUT GOD (Eph. 2:4a). What marvelous words! As commentator William MacDonald observes: “The words, But God, form one of the most significant, eloquent, and inspiring transitions in all literature. They indicate that a stupendous change has taken place. It is a change from the doom and despair of the valley of death to the unspeakable delights of the kingdom of the Son of God’s love.” We should especially appreciate MacDonald’s comment about eloquence. We usually think of eloquence being found in a long or dramatic speech or sermon, but MacDonald views just these two words as the ultimate in eloquent speech.

Another expositor writes, “The most astounding interruption in human history is the word ‘but’ in this passage.” Another observes, “But God! Here is where the beauty and wonder of the Christian gospel comes in…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.” And still another adds, “The hinge point between gloom and gladness…are these two little words, ‘But God.’”

In the shadow of the sinfulness outlined in verses 1-3, Paul then declares the light of the Gospel: But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;). In a sense, these two words contain the entire Gospel message. Why? Because they show THE ULTIMATE CONTRAST: They show man’s plight but God’s provision; they picture man’s impotence but God’s intervention; they describe man’s helplessness but God’s hope.

In general, the Greek word for But (de) shows “distinc­tion.” However, it also serves to mark a transition to some­thing new. Therefore, as God is the subject of the sentence, He then is the distinction; He is the transition; He is the One Who marks the ultimate contrast between what we were and what we are! Without God’s provision, intervention, and hope, we would still be dead in our trespasses and sins, doomed for­ever.

Think of it! Once we were dead, now we are alive (Rom. 6:13; I Cor. 15:22); once we were enemies of God, now we are friends (Col. 1:21; cf. Lk. 7:34); once we were aliens, now citizens (Eph. 2:12-13); once we were lost, now found (Lk. 15:6,9,24,32); once we were far off, now near (Eph. 2:13); once we were cut off from God, now have access to Him (Rom. 5:2); once we were at war with God, now at peace with Him (Rom. 5:1); and once we were condemned, now justified (Rom. 5:9).

All that because of—But God. As the Psalmist declares: “Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me” (Ps. 49:14-15). And as Paul echoes in Romans 5:7-8: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

That is the contrast of salvation. That is what Paul contrasts between verses 1-3. where we were corpses in the grave, and verses 4-10, where are given life by His grace.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Results of Sin

As I shared with my congregation the Sunday mornings I preached on Ephesians 2:1-3, the Truth in these verses is not very uplifting. After reading them, you won’t be “floating on air” or “feeling good about yourself.” Paul’s message is about the depravity man, his absolute and total sinfulness. The Truth here is not hard to understand, for Paul’s language is quite clear; rather it is hard to accept. It’s hard for all of us to face the stark reality of our sinfulness. Paul declares that there are three results of our sin.

First, there is the positional result, which is that we are dead in trespasses and sins (v. 1). Just as medical students can do anything to a cadaver that they want and that cadaver does not respond in any way because it’s dead to any physical stimulus, likewise, apart from Christ we were “spiritual cadavers.” We could not respond to any spiritual stimulus. We were not “sick in a fever,” “incapacitated,” or even “hopelessly crippled” by sin. We were dead.

Second, there are the practical results of [walking] according to the course of this world (the values, pleasures, inclinations, philosophies, goals, drives, purposes, attitudes, and actions of society), according to the prince of the power of the air (Satan’s control of the world), and according to our own lusts (the desires to satisfy natural drives in ways God forbids, such as sex outside of marriage).

Third, and most significant, however, is the permanent result of sin, namely, the wrath of God (v. 3). Unless we turn to Christ as Savior and Lord, every one of us is under the wrath of God. To speak of God’s wrath is unthinkable in most circles today. It simply is not politically correct or even prudent for ministry. “We should never speak of such a thing,” it is argued, “rather we should speak of love, mercy, and forgiveness and just talk about Jesus can do for you.”

But while Scripture says much about love, mercy, and forgiveness, It also says much about God’s wrath. As God declared right before commanding Noah to build a lifeboat, “My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3). God is not “infinitely merciful” as many teach today. There will come a time when He will pour out His wrath upon those who reject Him. Our Lord Himself made this very clear. While people love to quote John 3:16, they ignore or overlook 3:36: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Instead of opening our “evangelistic campaigns” with such platitudes as “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” we should begin as Paul does in Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [i.e., suppress] the truth in unrighteousness.” Paul writes a chapter later that God’s wrath is His “righteous judgment” (2:5). We see this principle, in fact, throughout the Word of God.

Isn’t it interesting that men accept the wrath of God when it comes to gravity and therefore tall buildings, but rebel at His wrath when it comes to moral behavior? Man thinks he should be allowed to break God’s laws with impunity. But just as there is a consequence of breaking the physical law of gravity by jumping off a building, there is likewise a consequence to breaking God’s “moral law of gravity.” Promiscuous sex, a lifetime of gluttony, an abuse of alcohol or drugs will kill you just as dead as a ten-story plunge.

While the sin issue is frequently dealt with in Scripture, it is avoided in our day at all cost. It’s just not stylish to preach about sin; it’s not prudent. But sin is, indeed, the issue. Salvation is not some vague experience that “makes life better,” rather it is repentance from sin that saves the soul from God’s eternal wrath.

Monday, November 28, 2011

God’s View of Sin

One of the major reasons, if not the major reason, for any wrong conception of salvation is an inadequate conception of sin. There are two words in Ephesians 2:1— And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins—that require careful study, for in these two words we find God’s view of sin.
First, the Apostle Paul calls sin trespasses. The Greek here (paraptoma) pictures a deviation to one side or the other. It was used at times by the ancient Greeks to describe an error, a mistake in judgment or a blunder. But this idea is never even implied in the New Testament. Rather the New Testament usage strongly emphasizes a deliberate act with its serious consequences. In fact, the key to understanding this is to realize that trespasses speaks of a willful deviation from God’s requirement.

Romans 5:15‑20 uses the word “offence” (paraptoma) several times to describe clearly Adam’s sin as a willful deviation from God’s command: “…through the offence of one many be dead…by one man’s offence death reigned by one…by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation…Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

There is a similar word used in the Old Testament Hebrew that speaks of a conscious act of treachery. A vivid example appears in Joshua 7:1, where it is used of Achan’s sin: “Did not Achan, the son of Zerah, commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on the congregation of Israel?” Again, we see here a deliberate act along with its consequences. The same is true with Saul (I Chron. 10:13), as well as many other illustrations (Lev. 6:2; 26:40; Num. 5:6; II Chron. 12:2; Ezek. 14:13; 20:27; 39:23, 26; etc.).

What then is the application of all this? Simply that we are all willful sinners. We, just as Adam, Achan, and Saul deliberately disobey God’s commands. We do not just make mistakes; we do not just commit indiscretions; we do not just “trip up;” we are willful sinners. We don’t sin because “the Devil made us do it,” not because it’s our spouse’s fault, not because we had a bad childhood; we sin because we choose to sin, we deviate from the commands of God.

Second, as if trespasses were not enough, Paul uses the term sins. The graphic idea in the Greek here is “to miss the mark.” The verb form was used in ancient Greek of a spearman missing the target at which he aimed and threw his spear. It then came to be used in the ethical sense of not measuring up to a standard or falling short of a purpose or standard. The pivotal verse on this principle is Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” What is sin? Missing the mark. What then is the mark for which we shoot? The glory of God; that is, the mark we shoot for is to be worthy of glory, but we miss it every time

Commentator William Barclay offers these fitting words: “We commonly have a wrong idea of sin. We would readily agree that the robber, murderer, the razor-slasher, the drunkard, the gangster are sinners, but, since most of us are respectable citizens, in our heart of hearts we think that sin has not very much to do with us. We would probably rather resent being called hell-deserving sinners. But ‘sin’ brings us face to face with what sin is, the failure to be what we ought to be and could be.”

Man’s view of sin is indeed distorted, and rightly so; his sinfulness distorts his view of his sinfulness and guilt. But God’s view is clear—man has willfully deviated from God’s law and has fallen far short of God’s standard of holiness. The outlook truly is bleak, but we shall soon see the answer to this problem of sin.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Man’s View of Sin

What is sin? That is a question with which many struggle, and many answers have been offered.

First, some, of course, don’t really recognize a “sin problem” at all. This view says that man is pretty much okay the way he is. While he certainly isn’t perfect, he is evolving, and since he’s been around for so long and has been learning along the way, he’s in pretty good shape. But such a view is a little hard to swallow as you watch the evening news.

Second, some who do recognize that there is a problem, view sin as an accident, mistake, or indiscretion. It’s not really a person’s fault when he does wrong, rather it’s because of his background and upbringing. But Romans 5:12 declares: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” This verse, as well as the Genesis 3 account of the fall, clear­ly shows that sin was a result of deliberate disobedience. Sin is never accidental; we sin because we choose to sin.

Third, sin is merely an “amiable weakness.” This means that sin is merely a minor, unfortunate weakness but one which does not really hurt anyone. Man is a little “unhealthy,” perhaps even morally sick, but he’s not a hopeless case. But notice Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and des­perately wicked.” Does that sound like an “amiable weakness” or simply an unhealthy condition? Man is, indeed, in a desperate condition. As we’ll see, he is actually spiritually dead.

Fourth, sin is merely “immaturity.” In this view sin is only a lack of personal growth that will improve as we develop as human beings. Is it not interesting that we do not see peo­ple growing out of this “immaturity?” I John 3:4 tells us that sin is “the transgression of the law,” not immaturity.

Fifth, Liberal Theology says sin is “selfishness” or a “low self‑esteem.”

In addition to the above approaches to sin, there is also a general sense of flippancy about sin today. This attitude is clearly seen in a poll taken by People Magazine a few years ago. It took what it called a “sin poll,” which gave a scale of 1‑10 to judge various “sins.” A “1” represented no feeling of regret; a “5” showed some guilt; a “10” (which no sin received) represented heinous sin. Here are just a few examples.

“Premarital sex” rated only 3.70 while “parking in a handicapped zone” rated 5.53 and “cutting into lines” rated 4.91. “Living together without marriage” (3.74) is just a little more serious than “not voting” (3.25). Perhaps the most telling example, however, is that while “murder” rated high­est at 9.84 (why not 10?) “abortion” ra­ted only 5.78! The world today sees no similarity between the two!

All this, indeed, reveals just how flippant man is about his sin and guilt. Worse is the fact that in modern preaching today, even among most evangelicals, sin is not dealt with at all. The subjects of today’s “preaching” are God’s love, man’s felt needs, how God will help you with your problems, and so on. Preaching about sin is, no pun intended, the greatest sin of all. If you talk about sin, you’ll make people uncomfortable and cause division. You must rather entertain them and build them up. But that is not the Gospel.

While Ephesians 1 tells us what God has done for us, Ephesians 2 gives us details of how God did it. And where does Paul start? He starts with the reality of sin. In contrast to man’s view of sin, in our next installment, we’ll see how God defines sin.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Power for Living

Of all the many verses that round out Ephesians 1, let us consider only one, verse 19: And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.

The great Roman general and statesman Pompey, who was at first the colleague and then rival of Julius Caesar, boasted that, with one stamp of his foot, he could rouse all Italy to arms. But as one expositor writes, “But God by one word of His mouth, nay, by a wish of His mind alone, can summon the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and the undiscovered worlds, to His aid, or bring new creatures into being to do His will.”

Paul, therefore, prays here that we might know just how much power we possess through Christ. It is tragic, indeed, that the average Christian today lives in utter defeat and powerlessness. Many live a life that is made up of “ups and downs.” Many have no consistency, no faithful­ness, and no power for living or for witnessing. What we see today is at best mediocre Christianity; we see Christians who are just going through the motions and doing what they must to “get by.” But Paul prays that we will know the incredible power we have in Christ.

The language Paul uses here is truly amazing. As he did back in verses 3-14, he heaps one word upon another to express the Truth. When we examine the language carefully, we find that the full idea in Paul’s words are: “That we may know the surpassing, super abounding greatness of His inherent, overcoming power, a power which is in action showing the strength of His might.” This is the kind of power for living that God wants us to claim.

One of the main reasons for medio­cre Christianity is because it has become theoretical instead of practical. Now, what’s interesting is that many say they are practical. They shun doctrine and seek “more practical methods.” But in reality, they don’t want something truly practical, rather something entertaining. If something is truly practical, it tells us specifically how to live. Much of today’s church is not practical, but theoretical. It has become philosophical and psycho­logical and is no longer really practical and authoritative for daily living. There is very little authoritative truth from God’s Word coming from pulpits today. Oh, how we should despise man’s (even preach­er’s) theories, ideas, and methods. More than ever before we need the unabridged, plain, and practical Truth from God’s authoritative Word.

Most of us have heard of Samuel Morse, the 19th Century inventor of the telegraph, and whose “Morse Code” is still in use today. But not many of us know that Morse was a devout Christian. He was once asked if during his research and development of his invention he ever came to the place of not knowing where to got next. He replied: “Oh, many times. Whenever I was baffled and frustrated, I went to my knees and asked God for light and understanding. He showed me the way. I believe God wanted the telegraph to be invented because He know what if would means to mankind. After the invention, I received many honors—but I feel undeserving of honors. I have made a valuable application of electricity not because of superior gifts and abilities, but because God pleased to answer my prayers and reveal to me a few of the wonderful secrets of His universe.”

What humility! How unlike so many of us today who revel in worldly honor, who seek glory to feed our pride. But not Morse. His testimony was, “I didn’t do this; God did.” In fact, the very first message Morse tapped out on his invention on the Washington-Baltimore line on May 24, 1844 was, “What hath God wrought!” Indeed, through Samuel Morse, God introduced the great power of electrical communication. Today we marvel at the worldwide telecommunications that we enjoy, but how many of us give God all the glory? Thank God Samuel Morse did. And God, likewise, gives each of us power for living when we seek His guidance and, most of all, His glory.

Monday, November 14, 2011

True Enlightenment

We hear a lot about “enlightenment” these days, but what is true enlightenment? As one who almost went into medicine, I am fascinated by anatomy and became very intrigued by Paul’s words the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know (Eph. 1:18.) Enlightened is photizo (English “photo”) and means “to give light, to shine.” It speaks here then of giving understanding. As the Psalmist declares, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14), and nowhere is this truer than the eye. Let’s consider some parallels.

Sight begins when light, in varying wavelengths, travels through the dime-­sized, transparent cornea, passes through the iris, which controls the amount of light that enters the eye, and then strikes the lens, which bends the light and focuses it on the retina. Our “spiritual eye” likewise controls the amount of information that enters and puts it into focus. This gives us the idea of discernment, the ability to distinguish one thing from another, Truth from error.

The retina, the innermost layer of the eye wall, lines the rear two‑thirds of the eye and is extremely sensitive to light. It converts the energy of light waves into nerve impulses, which are then transmitted along the optic nerve to the brain. In the same way our “spiritual eye” is extremely sensitive to light or the absence of it.

Although it covers less than a square inch, the retina contains 137 million light ­sensitive receptor cells, 130 million of which are rods for black‑and­-white vision, night vision, and motion detection, and the remaining seven million are cones for color vision. The rods, which are scattered all over the retina, react to even the smallest ray of light. Light bleaches a colored pigment in the rods called rhodopsin. This bleaching action generates an electrical response (a few millionths of a volt) that in turn is fed into the straw‑sized optic nerve and carried to the brain. The entire complex electrochemi­cal process takes about two thousandths of a second. Even more intricate is the process whereby the cones sort out color. The prevailing theory is that the cones have red, green, and blue bleachable pigments and that these colors are blended to make all the other hues.

The analogy of this to our “spiritual eye” is dramatic. There are millions more rods than cones, showing us how important black-and-white is. In a day when Relativism rules, how we need black-and-white absolutes! Color is wonderful, but it’s the rod’s reaction to even the smallest ray of light that we need so desperately. Additionally, a “spiritual eye” does all this virtually instantaneously, immediately discerning Truth from error.

Again, the optic nerve takes all this information to the brain for processing. One of the most fascinating aspects of this is that because light travels through the single lens of the eye, the image that it projects on the retina is actually inverted. The brain is, therefore, programmed to flip the image so we see it right side up. Binoculars and refractor telescopes, for example, have two lens, which flip the image twice so we can see it right side up. The brain does this and many other things so we can understand what we see. Likewise, our spiritual mind understands what we see.

Still another miracle of sight is our stereoscopic vision, what is called “depth perception.” We see depth because we have two eyes. This is achieved when the optic nerves from the two eyes fuse at the optic chiasma, a major nerve junction near the brain. When the image reaches the brain, the right half of a field of vision “crosses over” and registers in the left brain, and the left half of a field registers in the right brain. The brain is, therefore, able to superimpose the “left” picture on the “right” picture and we see depth. What a thrilling parallel this is to our spiritual sight! With two “spiritual eyes” we can see the depth of God’s Truth.

Indeed, Paul’s use of the phrase the eyes of your understanding being enlightened is full of significance. It is through our “spiritual eyes” that we are enlightened and know God’s truth. Dear Christian, you might not have the physical eyes of legendary fighter and test pilot Chuck Yeager, who could see enemy planes fifty miles away, but God has given you perfect spiritual sight if you but use it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Knowing God (2)

I once had the joy of meeting Tennessee Ernie Ford, who was actually a dear Christian man. I was able to talk to him about his testimony that he had just shared on stage a few minutes before. But while I met him, I could never say that I knew him.

In contrast, however, every Christian can know God personally. Paul speaks of our knowledge of [God] in Ephesians 1:17. The Greek word behind knowledge (epignosis) is a powerful one that speaks of an experiential, personal know­ledge that is full and thorough, a knowledge that is precise and correct. How vital it is that we have full, precise, thorough, and correct knowledge of God.

A driving force in my own life and ministry is a passion for precision, not the ambiguity and Relativism that rule our day. Paul speaks of precise doctrine, exact knowledge, not something vague and relative to each person’s experience. The modern notions of “open mindedness” and “tolerance” were foreign to Paul’s thinking and they should be expunged from the thinking of Christians today. What is needed in the Church is an epignosis—a deeper, fuller, more precise knowledge of God.

I was thoroughly shocked and appalled the day I heard a fundamental preacher say, “Well, we really come to the place in the Christian life where we pretty much know all there is to know; from there on the Christian life is just review and constant revival.” Depending upon his attitude, that is either incredibly ignorant or blatantly arrogant. May Paul’s words ring in our ears, “That I may know Him” (Phil. 3:10). Even after 30 years of ministry, Paul was constantly growing and deepening in knowledge and intimacy, learning more and more and more. Who are we to do any less?

As one commentator writes, “Here Paul puts his emphasis on the great need of the Church. The wisdom and focus of the world is summed up in two words: ‘know yourself,’ and the focus of many, perhaps most, Christians is very often the same. They are occupied with getting a knowledge of self, improving their Gestalt, rather than knowing Christ! As a result they are stunted in their growth.” How right he is! The norm today is pop-psychology and shallow sermonizing. The Gospel has been reinvented and ministry redefined. A deep knowledge of Christ and His Word, attained primarily through doctrinal preaching, is shunned.

In contrast, Harry Ironside recounts an incident in his life when as a young preacher he met an old, godly Irishman, Andrew Fraser, who was dying of tuberculosis. With lungs almost gone, he could speak only in a whisper, but asked Ironside, “Young man, you are trying to preach Christ; are you not?” Ironside replied, “Yes, I am.” “Well,” Fraser whispered, “sit down a little, and let us talk about the Word of God.” Opening his well-worn Bible, the man spoke about one great Biblical truth after another until his strength was gone. Ironside was amazed as he heard various passages expounded in ways that had never occurred to him, and before he realized it, tears were streaming down his face. He finally asked the old gentleman, “Where did you get these things? Could you tell me where I could find a book that would open them up to me? Did you learn these things in some seminary or college?” “My dear, young man,” he answered, I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the North of Ireland. There with my open Bible before me, I used to kneel for hours at a time, and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart, and He taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the seminaries or colleges in the world.” Not long after, Fraser went to be with the Lord, but Ironside never forgot what he’d said.

I don’t think I’ll forget it either. I would not trade my formal theological training for anything; it was necessary, valuable, and foundational. But I’ve learned far more since those days, and it’s been through decades of study and prayer. I must admit, instead of a mud floor, it was a comfortable office, but wherever it is, God gives His Truth to those who diligently seek it (Heb. 11:6).

Oh, how we need this in our churches today! May we each ask ourselves a few diagnostic questions. Is my spiritual knowledge greater today than this time last year? Is my grasp of spiritual Truth greater now than then? Am I growing just a little more each day? Am I applying that knowledge in my practical living? That is what Paul was praying for the Ephesians and is what a true godly pastor is praying for his people.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Knowing God (1)

In light of Paul’s prayer life in general, we are prepared to look specifically at that for which he pray­ed (Eph. 1:17-23). Generally speaking, Paul wanted his readers to understand the significance of the truths he expounded in his “song of praise.”

As I read this passage many times during my study of it, the very first thing that struck me was Paul’s “pastor’s heart.” Unlike today, where we see a pastor’s heart defined as being some syrupy sentimentality that often coddles, and even indulges, Christians more than challenging them, the desire of Paul’s heart was to see God’s people grow deeper in doctrine, to understand theological Truth. More than anything else, Paul wanted God’s people to know God—That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him (v. 17).

What is the only way we can know God? Many people today profess to “know God” and to “be in touch with God,” but are merely religious, professing something but knowing nothing. As Job asked: “Canst thou by searching find out God?” (Job 11:7). In himself man can never know God. That is exactly what Paul declared to the philosophically‑minded Corinthians: “The world by wisdom [or, philosophy] knew not God” (I Cor. 1:21). All the gospel was to many in Corinth was just another philosophy to debate. But Paul did not come to “philosophize” or “psychologize” as many do today; rather he came to preach the Word of God plain­ly and boldly (2:1-5).

Likewise, that is what Jesus meant when He said of the people: “They seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matt. 13:13). Even with the truth right in front of them, they  could not see it. So the only way we can know God is by possessing the Spirit of wisdom and reve­lation, and that comes only by saving faith is Jesus Christ.

Not only des the Holy Spirit impart wisdom, which we examined back in verse 8, but He also imparts revelation, which means the uncovering or disclosure of previously hidden things. The most obvious example of this is the disclosure of the “mystery” of our salvation in verses 3‑14. In other words, God has revealed His mysteries through His Spirit and has made them known to us. That is what Paul was praying for.

There are those today who are looking for “new revelation.” But God has already revealed to us all that He is going to reveal in His Word and through His Spirit who energizes that Word. If we would just concentrate on that, we will be so busy studying the depth of it that we will have no time to “seek other revelations.”

The story is told of the famous newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst, who invested a literal fortune collecting art treasures from around the world. One day Mr. Hearst found a description of some valuable items that he felt he must own, so he sent his agent abroad to find them. After months of searching, the agent reported that he had finally found the treasures. They were in Mr. Hearst’s warehouse. Hearst had been searching frantically for treasures he already owned! Had he read the catalog of his treasures, he would have saved himself a great deal of money and trouble.

That graphically illustrates many Christians today, some of whom resemble the old Gnostics. Gnosticism, which came to full bloom in the 2nd Century and remains today under a new title, The New Age Movement, boasted of a deeper, superior knowledge that only certain people could acquire. Many today seek some supposed “deeper life” or “higher blessing.” Some go so far as to go back to the rituals and ceremonies of the Old Testament, thinking that they hold some deeper significance than the simple truths of the New Testament. But how foolish they are. Like William Randolph Hearst, they are clueless of what they already own. And what is the “catalog” of our treasures? The Word of God. If people will only search that, they will find all the treasures God has given.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Prayer: Chiefly Spiritual

Ephesians 1:17— That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him—reveals a third of many principles of prayer in verses 16-23, namely: prayer should be chiefly spiritual.

This point might seem odd to the reader. Isn’t prayer always spiritual? We submit, No! Most of our prayer, in fact, is temporal and physical. Think a moment, for what do we usually pray? Do we not usually pray for the sick and injured and pray for temporal and financial needs? Now, there is nothing wrong in praying for these. God expects us to bring such needs to Him.

But notice that Paul’s main concern was for spiritual needs. As expositor John Phillips observes: “Paul rarely prayed for the things that loom so large in our prayers—better health, more money, job conditions, family problems, world crises. Paul prayed that people might know God better, that they might become better acquainted with Jesus.”

We find this attitude throughout Paul’s letters. To the Colossians he wrote (1:9): “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” As here in Ephesians, he prayed for spiritual realities in their lives. He also wrote to the Philippians (1:9), “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” He told the Corinthians that he was praying for their right conduct: “Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest” (II Cor. 13:7).

He also wrote these tremendously encouraging words to the Thessalonians: “We pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thess. 1:11-12). We should likewise be praying this way for one another.

Paul also asked others to pray for him. He asked the Thessalonians to “pray,” not for his temporal needs, but “that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you” (II Thes. 3:1). Likewise, he asked the Hebrews to, “Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly” (Heb. 13:18). Oh, may we ever keep in mind that our prayers should ultimately have a spiritual end!

Verse 17 and the verses that follow show Paul’s spir­itual prayer. This fact is one of the most fascinating things about Paul’s prayer life. Whenever we see him praying, either he is praying for some spiritual reality, or he is pray­ing for a temporal need that will ultimately have a spiritual result. How often do our prayers for temporal matters have a spiritual result in view?

Oh, Dear Christian, is our prayer life like Paul’s? There are some Bible teachers who lift the Apostle Paul so high that he is almost deified. Indeed, Paul was a great preacher, a great church planter, and a great Christian. But he was a man like any other, and the same Holy Spirit who indwelled and em­powered him is the same Holy Spirit that indwells and empowers us. Each one of us can and must have the same kind of prayer life that Paul had.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Prayer: Constant Communion

Two words in Ephesians 1:16— [I] cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers—stand out: cease not.

A second principle we see in Paul’s prayer life is that prayer is constant communion.  Prayer is far more than just “talk­ing to God,” much more than just “telling God our troubles,” and infinitely more than just “asking and receiving.” First and foremost, prayer is constant communion. What does this term mean? Simply this: constant communion with God means a continuous consciousness of God’s presence in which we view everything in life in relation to Him.

For example, if we meet someone, we immediately consider where they stand with the Lord. If we hear of something bad happening, we react by praying for God to act in the situation for His glory and people’s good. If we hear of something good that has happened, we respond with immediate praise to God for it because we know He is glorified. In short, we view everything that comes along from a spiritual perspective. When Paul looked around his world, everything he saw prompted him to prayer in some way. When he thought of or heard about one of his beloved churches, it moved him toward communion with God.

Nehemiah provides a wonderful example of such praying without ceasing. King Artaxerxes noticed that Nehemiah was sad and asked him why, at which time Nehemiah told him of the destruction of Jerusalem. The king then asked Nehemiah to make a request of him that he might grant it. Before replying that the King send him to Judah, Nehemiah prayed a quick, brief prayer (Neh. 2:4). In the midst of a stressful situation, Nehemiah was conscious of God’s purpose. What a contrast that is to today’s popular emphasis on the The Prayer of Jabez, where we are encouraged to pray, “Bless me, God!” That’s not what Nehemiah prayed, or, for that matter, what Paul or our Lord ever prayed. No, Nehemiah was concerned with what God wanted.

May I submit, if we do not view prayer in this way, we will soon view God only as one we call on in time of need; without this attitude, we will lose touch with God. This is what is referred to in I Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing,” and Luke 18:1, “That men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”

Having said that, prayer also demands conscious effort, however. We must have times of specific prayer, times when we consciously and thoughtfully bring things to God. There is a beautiful balance between this and constant communion, for our times of “speci­fic prayer” are actually an outworking of our “constant commu­nion.”

Here is a blessed truth! As we are continuously conscious of God’s presence, He will bring people and needs to our minds so that we may bring them before His throne. If we are not in constant communion with God, He cannot bring things to our minds.

Ponder: When was the last time a certain person came to your mind and you could not dismiss him or her from your thoughts? Perhaps you called them on the telephone and told them that you were just thinking about them, just wondering how they were getting along. What did God just do? As you were weighing your life and other’s lives before the Lord, looking at everything in relation to God, He brought that person to mind.

All this is in view in Paul’s words. As he went about his daily tasks, ever conscious of God, God brought certain ones to his conscious mind—one in Ephe­sus, another in Philippi, two more in Colosse, and countless others in churches he had planted. Later in Ephesians, Paul writes, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (6:18). Oh, may this be true of every pastor and every other Believer.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Prayer: Praying for Others

Ephesians 1:16— [I] cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers—and the verses that follow (16-23), reveal something about the Apostle Paul that is most enlightening. We often think of Paul as the great church planter, the great theologian, and the greatest of all the Apostles. While all those are true, we often fail to see him as a great man of prayer. It’s amazing, in fact, to study his Epistles in this light and observe just how often we see him praying. While space prohibits our examining all the principles of prayer found in this passage (you can read them online), let’s look at a few.

First, prayer involves “intercession,” that is, praying for others. The more one studies Paul’s prayer life, the more humbled one becomes because we always see him praying for others, not himself. He not only said he was concerned, he showed he was concerned. Colossians 1:9-14 is another example of Paul’s intercessory prayer. He begins in verse 9 with, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Likewise to the Romans he wrote, “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.”

How often is our prayer life centered only in ourselves, our needs and wants? As that great exposi­tor Alexander MaClaren challenged: “A man’s prayers for others are a very fair thermometer of his own religious condition . . . There is nothing colder than the intercession of a cold Christian; and, on the other hand, in no part of the fervid Apostle Paul’s writings do his words come more winged and fast, or his spirit glow with greater fervour of affection and holy desire than in his petitions for his friends. “

Indeed, Paul was ever concerned with what other believers needed. As he challenged Timothy, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men [without distinction]” (I Tim. 2:1). Scripture is filled with examples of God’s people praying for one another: Job prayed for his friends (Job 42:10); Moses prayed for Aaron (Deut. 9:20) and Miriam (Num. 12:13); Samuel prayed for Israel (1 Sam. 7:5, 9); David also prayed for Israel (2 Sam. 24:17), as well as Solomon (1 Chron. 29:18-19); Hezekiah prayed for Judah (2 Kings 19:14-19); Isaiah prayed for the people of God (Isa. 63:15–64:12); Daniel prayed for Israel (Dan. 9:3-19), as did Ezekiel (Ezek. 9:8); Nehemiah prayed for Judah (Neh. 1:4-11); Jesus prayed for his disciples (John 17:9-24); The Jerusalem Church prayed for Peter’s release from prison (Acts 12:5ff); Epaphras prayed for the Colossians (Col. 4:12); and on we could go.

This should challenge us to be praying for one another. As Puritan Matthew Henry encourages: “Observe, even the best of Christians need to be prayed for: and, while we hear well of our Christian friends, we should think ourselves obliged to intercede with God for them, that they may abound and increase yet more and more.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Tests of Christian Profession (2)

As we saw in our last installment, the word wherefore in Ephesians 1:15—Wherefore, I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints—links what Paul has already said in verses 3‑14 with what he is about to say in verses 15‑23. Based upon all they have in Christ, Paul prays that they will assimilate those truths.

Going deeper, we see that Paul had heard of two specific things, two things that are actually the two ultimate tests of Christian profession. He here condenses true Christian profession into two words: faith and love. We looked at faith last time.

Second, Paul had heard of their love. Put simply: Genuine FAITH in Christ produces genuine LOVE for other believers.

How often have we caught ourselves saying, “Well I love so‑in‑so in the Lord.” Often what we really mean is, “I love him in the Lord (but I can’t stand him in himself).” But true Chris­tian love can be defined as: Treating others as God has treated you. How has God treated you? He has treated you according to grace, mercy, and love. So, we are to treat others in exactly the same way. What we need to do today is get away from our “cop­out” clichés and our false emotionalism, and get back to true Christian love. This is the real idea in the Greek agape (love). As we mentioned back in study of verses 4 and 5, perhaps the best definition of agape is “self‑emptying self‑sacrifice.” If we really love someone, we will disregard self and think of others. That is indeed a test of Christian profession. The Apostle John tells us: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (I Jn. 3:14). There is something drastically wrong with a professing Christian who does not want Christian fellowship or who “snubs” other Christians.

Before leaving these two “acid-tests” of Christian profession, it is noteworthy the order in which Paul presents them: first is faith and then is love. Love comes after faith, not before. This is the opposite of what we see today. Paul always deals with doctrine first and then duty, while false Christianity prattles on about love, ignoring and even denying the Theology behind true love. Paul, however, doesn’t speak of some syrupy sentimentality, rather He first nails down true faith and then says that true love flows out of that.

A wonderful story is told of Philip Henry, the father of the great Puritan preacher and commentator Matthew Henry. Philip had met a young lady and they were very much in love. There was a problem, however; she belonged to a higher social strata then he. While she had become a Christian and such things no longer mattered to her, they mattered nonetheless to her parents. With contempt they asked her, “This man, Philip Henry, where has he come from?” The future Mrs. Henry’s immortal reply was, “I don’t know where he has come from, but I know where he is going.”

Indeed, that is what matters.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Please forgive the interruption in postings, but I will be teaching at the Haiti Bible Institute for the next two weeks. Postings will resume, Lord willing, on the October 24.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Tests of Christian Profession (1)

The word wherefore in Ephesians 1:15—Wherefore, I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints—literally means “on this account” or “for this cause.” This word links what Paul has already said in verses 3‑14 with what he is about to say in verses 15‑23. Based upon all they have in Christ, Paul prays that they will assimilate those truths.

To go deeper, we see here that Paul had heard of two specific things, two things that are actually the two ultimate tests of Christian profession. As John Calvin put it: “Observe here, that under faith and love Paul sums up the whole perfection of Christians.” What a wonderful statement! Paul here condenses true Christian profession into two words: faith and love.

First, Paul had heard of their faith. The first test of Christian profession is faith in Christ. This is evident from the context. With verses 3‑14 still in mind, Paul rejoices that these people had truly received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This is the real “acid‑test” of Christian profession. Many today claim to be “Christian,” but at the same time they deny such truths as the Deity of Christ, His sinless perfection, His blood atonement for our redemption, and His literal, bodily resurrection. The acid‑test of Chris­tian profession is whether or not there has been faith in Jesus Christ, that is, faith in what He was and in what He did. Without that faith, there is no salvation.

We should take careful note of the object of faith that Paul emphasizes. He specifically mentions their faith in the Lord Jesus. Any definition of faith is incomplete without a consideration of its object.Faith is a verb, so without an object, the entire concept is incomplete. In contrast to today’s meaningless “faith in faith” concept, saving faith has as its object “the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Notice that Paul here uses the simple title Lord Jesus. As one studies verses 1-14, he finds that this is the first time Paul uses this title. Yes, he uses “Jesus Christ,” “Christ Jesus,” “Lord Jesus Christ,” and just “Christ,” but never does he use Lord Jesus until now. He specifically says faith in the Lord Jesus, not faith in “Jesus Christ” or any other of the previous terms. Why? Because the title Lord Jesus is the bare essentials, the absolute bare minimum concerning the object of saving faith. In short, by using this title, Paul emphasizes not only the person of JESUS, but also His position as LORD, and these are the essentials. Without the person of Jesus and His position as Lord, a person cannot be saved. This is a vitally important and tremendously profound principle. Yes, there are countless people today who talk much about the person of Jesus but reject His position as Lord. In contrast, Paul is quite specific, recognizing that the Ephesians embraced both truths.

A common teaching of our day is that salvation entails just “believing in Jesus.”  Some teach that no repentance is necessary, no change of life is expected, and no responsibility is demanded. But such teaching is foreign to Scripture. True salvation results in an automatic change in the person who believes, as II Corinthians 5:17 makes clear: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Further, the word Greek word behind “believe” (pisteuo) actually carries the idea “to obey.” As one Greek scholar writes: “Heb. 11 stresses that to believe is to obey . . . Paul in Rom. 1:8 [and] I Thes. 1:8 (cf. Rom. 15:18; 16:19 [II Thes. 1:7-8]) shows, too, that believing means obeying. He speaks about the obedience of faith in Rom. 1:5 [6:17; 16:26], and cf. 10:3; II Cor. 9:1.”

Believing (or faith) and obedience are so inseparable, in fact, we often find them used synonymously. Hebrews 5:9, for example, declares: “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (cf. 11:8). What’s more, as another leading Greek scholar points out, to have faith means to “entrust or commit oneself” and “entails obedience.” Good works never save (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), but good works and obedience to God’s Word are always a result, an evidence of salvation (Eph. 2:10; Jas. 2:14-26; Rom. 1:5; 16:26; I Pet. 1:2).

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Only Source of Truth (2)

In one last look at Ephesians 1:13—In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.—we consider finally the Apostles Paul’s broader meaning when He speaks of Truth. Not only is there the Immediate Truth of the Gospel, but second, there is also The Broader Truth of all of God’s revelation, that is, all of His Word. We say this because the message of the Gospel is the center of God’s revelation and everything else flows from that. When we come to Christ, we embrace not only the Truth of the Gospel, but all of God’s Truth.

It is precisely for that reason that we need to recognize that God’s Word is the only source of Absolute Truth (which is actually redundant, because Truth implies an absolute). As we’ve seen, there are many other claims on how to discover Truth, but it is God alone who reveals it in His Word.

Words fail to express the impact this realization has produced in my own life and service. After examining the history of science, philosophy, and religion, it becomes glaringly obvious that Truth is to be discovered only in God and His Word. To argue along the lines of these other things is pointless, fruitless, and, if I may be so bold, borderline blasphemous. We should not argue from any other premise except, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Now, some would object to our whole discussion by saying, “This is all quite silly. After all, I can say, ‘The book is on the table; that is a fact and is therefore true, and the Bible didn’t have anything to do with it.” And to that we say, you are quite right. That is what philosophers call “self-evident fact.” Something that is self-evident does not need to be proved because it shows itself to be true.

This thought immediately prompted me to ask, “Does the Bible have anything to say about self-evident fact?” And I found that It does, indeed. Galatians 3:11 declares, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” The word “evident” translates the Greek dēlos, which refers to “a clear case, out of all dispute.” Writing to the Galatians, who had become entangled in works-oriented religion, Paul is saying that there is nothing more “self-evident” than the fact that man cannot be justified by Law but by faith in Christ alone. There is, indeed, no more obvious and self-evident Truth than that. That is precisely what changed Martin Luther’s life and ignited the Reformation. In Luther’s own words, “If anyone could have been saved by his monkery, it would have been me.” But he finally realized the self-evident Truth of sola fide (faith alone).

My Dear Reader, I would encourage you that if you are looking for Truth, you will never find it unless you come to Christ, Who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:6). If you are already a Christian, I would challenge you that no matter what the question, no matter what the issue, may your motto be, “What saith the Scripture?” (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 4:30). Why? Because only It is Truth.

Let us close with two other wonderful verses: “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32-33). Will science make us free? No, we’re ever learning but never discovering. Will philosophy make us free? No, it drove Nietzsche mad. Will even religion make us free? No, the Law keeps us in bondage. It is only the Gospel of Christ that makes us free, and it is only in His Word that we find Truth.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Only Source of Truth (1)

Considering Ephesians 1:13 once again—In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.—we have considered the Meaning of Truth and Inadequate Sources of Truth.

This bring us to a third consideration, The Only Source of Truth. What is true? What is factual? What is absolutely reliable, totally secure, and unchanging? We are left with only one answer—God and His Word.  There are two emphases in the Apostle Paul’s statement

First, The Immediate Truth. Paul speaks of the word of truth, which is best stated and understood as the gospel of your salvation. In other words, it is the Gospel that is the only Truth that brings salvation. The real Truth, which in turn forms the foundation of all other Truth and is the source from which all other Truth flows, is the Gospel.

Word (logos) means to speak intelligently, to articulate a message, to give a discourse. Truth, of course, denotes a thing as it really is. So the phrase the word of truth declares that there is one message that is real and unconcealed, not falsified or changing—the message of the gospel.

In a day when it is considered intolerant and divisive to say that there is only one true religion, that statement invites violent criticism. To call one group a cult or false religion, or call Islam “an evil religion,” as did evangelical leader Franklin Graham after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, brings a storm of protest. But such dissent does not alter the fact that God says that only His Word is Truth. 

The word Gospel has an interesting etymology. The Greek is euaggelion: eu, good; aggel, to proclaim, tell. But the English is even more fascinating. It comes from the Old English gōdspel: gōd, good; spel, tale. Witches were said to cast a spell, that is, say certain words that supposedly had magic powers. To spellbind, is to speak in such a way as to hold people’s attention. To spell a word means to name or write the letters of the word. So the Gospel is, indeed, the good spell, the good tale, the good story, the good message, the good news.

Even more significant, the gospel is the only good tale. In the Greek, the verse literally reads: “The message of the truth, the good news of your salvation.” Paul wants to make it clear that there is only one good news. As he declared in Galatians 1:6-7: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” He makes it clear that a perverted Gospel is not a Gospel (a good news, a good story) at all. It is for that reason that he writes the very pointed, narrow command in the next two verses: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

“Accursed” (anathema) refers to that which is devoted to destruction. We are not to be tolerant of false teaching; rather we are to consider such teaching and teachers as under God’s judgment. God simply will not tolerate a perversion of the Gospel. Why? Because it’s the only Truth. The Apostle Paul preached the only Gospel there is. In contrast, in our day the Gospel is being retold as a new tale, a new story. It’s a story of God’s Universal Fatherhood, Jesus’ life as a good moral example, and a salvation without repentance, Lordship, or even acknowledgment of sin. One today can define the Gospel in whatever terms make him feel good. But that type of Gospel, which is no Gospel at all, must be cursed for what it is—a lie. The only Gospel is trust in Jesus’ blood as the only redemption from sin.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Is Truth in Religion?

Based upon Ephesians 1:13—In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.—we ask again: where is Truth? Two of the greatest claims to discovering Truth are made by science and philosophy, but religion is another strong contender.

In a very real sense, what we’ve observed regarding philosophy applies equally to religion, for religion is nothing more than philosophy. Webster defines religion as “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.”

Of course, in a sense Biblical Christianity is a religion. The Puritans, for example, often referred to it as religion. But it’s interesting that in the five verses where the world “religion” appears in the New Testament, it is always qualified by a modifier. Speaking as a Pharisee, Paul refers to “our religion” in Acts 26:5, that is, the works-oriented religion that Judaism had become. He does so again in Galatians 1:13-14, where he uses the term “the Jew’s religion.” James uses two modifiers, calling one religion “man’s religion” and the other “pure religion” (Jas. 1:26-27).

So there is a difference between “religion” per se and “pure religion.” The word “pure” (katharos) means that which is genuine, or that which is free from any improper mixture. Biblical Christianity is, therefore, the genuine article, in contrast to just religion. “Religion,” therefore, is false religion, in contrast to Biblical Christianity.

Consequently, when one examines religion, he finds that from Cain, through the pagan cults, and right up to today’s countless religions, every one of them has its own belief system, philosophy, and view of Truth. Every religion is simply man’s works-oriented way of getting to God (or enlightenment, nirvana, or whatever). Like philosophy, religion is invention, not revelation. Religion is not Truth.

Perhaps the best example is Judaism. After all, if any “religion” could be called Truth, it would surely be Judaism. God Himself gave the Law, instituted the sacrificial system, and established Temple worship. But the Jews totally perverted all of it and turned it into just another works system. Throughout their history, especially during the Babylonian Exile and the Intertestamental Period, they added thousands of man-made traditions to God’s law and made them equal to God’s law. The rabbis searched Scripture to find various commands and regulations and then added supplemental requirements. As our Lord declared to the scribes and Pharisees, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matt. 15:6).

Just one example of many we could give was the command not to work on the Sabbath. To that law they added the idea that carrying a burden was a form of work, but then they had to answer the question, “What constitutes a burden?” After much discussion, they decided that a burden would be defined as food equal to the weight of a fig, enough wine for mixing in a goblet, milk enough for one swallow, honey enough to put on a wound, oil enough to anoint a small member of the body, water enough to moisten eye salve, paper enough to write a customs house notice, ink enough to write two letters of the alphabet, reed enough to make a pen, and so on. To carry anything more than those prescribed amounts on the Sabbath was to break the law.

But even such a list could not answer every situation, so a lot of time was spent arguing about such things as if a tailor who went out on the Sabbath with a needle stuck in his robe, or if moving a lamp from one place in a room to another, or if wearing an artificial leg, or if using a crutch, or if a parent lifted a child, or if a doctor healed a patient on the Sabbath was considered carrying a burden and therefore sinful.

Such meaningless works and outward ritual have been repeated millions of times, throughout thousands of years, by hundreds of religions. And religion is all it is, just man-made tradition. And Truth is always forced to give way to religious tradition.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Is Truth in Philosophy?

Ephesians 1:13—In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.—speaks of Truth. But as we’ve been asking, where is Truth today? The greatest claim to discovering Truth is made by science, but another claim is laid by philosophy, a word that directly transliterates the Greek philosophia, literally, “love of wisdom.”

As the 17th Century philosopher Rene Descartes is famous for saying, “I think, therefore I am,” there are those who believe that ultimate knowledge can be found in man’s own thinking. Philosophy, therefore, has historically been man’s attempt to explain the universe around him and the meaning of his own existence.

But as Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer in our own generation has written, man cannot begin with himself and arrive at ultimate reality. Theologian and Christian philosopher Gordon Clark adds that “secular philosophy leaves life without meaning and in utter frustration.”

The 18th Century Scottish empirical philosopher David Hume, for example, who was famous for his rejection of the miraculous, said, “I am first affrighted and confounded with that forlorn solitude, in which I am placed in my philosophy.” The 19th Century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche mocked Christianity as the religion of weaklings, and was one of the first to proclaim that God is dead. But ultimately, Nietzsche could not live with the implications of his philosophy. He wrote later in life, “Grant me madness,” and he did, indeed, get what he asked for, spending the last 11 years of his life in total mental darkness.

Perhaps the most appealing philosophy in our day is Relativism, the theory that there is no objective standard by which truth may be determined, so that truth varies with individuals and circumstance. In other words, whatever is true to you is true, but whatever is true for me is also true.

The absurdity of Relativism, however, appears in an incident that happened to Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias. While visiting Ohio State University to speak, his hosts took him to the Wexner Center of the Arts, which happens to be a monument to postmodern architecture. It has stairways leading nowhere, columns that come down but don’t quite reach the floor, beams and galleries that go everywhere but nowhere, and a crazy looking girder system over most of the outside that’s pointless. Like Postmodernism and Relativism, it defies every rule of common sense and every law of rationality. Zacharias looked at the building, cocked his head, grinned, and then said, “I wonder if they used the same techniques when they laid the foundation.” That one comment dismantles the whole idea of Relativism. The designers could talk all they wanted about being independent from reality in their decoration, but when it came to the reality of making the building stand up, they were still dependant on a laying a solid foundation.

In spite of its obvious self-defeating nature, however, Relativism is alive and well. What is the cause of Relativism? The major reason is that Relativism is comfortable; it doesn’t demand anything. In other words, Absolute Truth makes us responsible, so by rejecting absolutes, we can live the way we want to.

Even more tragic, Relativism has taken over the church today. The old adage, “Well, that’s just your interpretation of the Bible,” actually comes from the philosophy of Relativism. We see countless examples of this. Catch phrases such as “seeker sensitive,” “purpose-driven,” “user-friendly,” and “meeting needs” are all built on the foundation of Relativism and its offspring Pragmatism, which says just do what gets results regardless of what the Bible says. If you embrace Pragmatism, you can use any method that works, you can have any kind of “ministry” you want, and you can present the Gospel any way you wish. And if someone dares to discern, question, or “criticize,” they are labeled divisive, intolerant, and “politically incorrect.”

But Scripture is neither relative nor pragmatic. It deals in absolutes; It deals with Truth.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Is Truth in Science?

In light of Ephesians 1:13—In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.—where is Truth to be found in our day? Last time we considered the first of three principles that carry tremendous significance in our day, The Meaning of Truth.

Second, Inadequate Sources of Truth. Of all the claims to sources of Truth, three stand out: Science, Philosophy, and Religion.

By far the greatest claim to being a source of Truth in our day is made by science. Scientist Karl Pearson, for example, made this obvious when he wrote in his famous book Grammar of Science: “the scientific method is the sole gateway to the whole region of knowledge.”

But let’s take an honest look. Is science really a source of Truth? Is it always reliable, constant, sure, and unchanging? In the Middle Ages, for example, accepted scientific theory concluded that the earth was at the center of the universe and everything revolved around it. It was also believed that gravity was some kind of occult force. But before we call those people ignorant and backward, even today we can’t adequately explain gravity.

In more recent years, it was once accepted fact that light travels in a straight line, but it was then discovered that gravity actually bends light. When the atom was discovered, science asserted that the atom was the smallest indivisible particle of which matter was comprised. That’s why scientists named it “atom,” which is from the Greek atomos, meaning, “that which cannot be divided.” But then, not only did science later discover that the atom can be split (and with incredible results), but it also discovered many other smaller subatomic particles—electrons, neutrons, protons, photons, and quarks.

As the 19th Century drew to a close, scientists around the world were satisfied that they had reached an accurate picture of the universe. As physicist Alastair Rae put it, “By the end of the nineteenth century, it seemed that the basic fundamental principles governing the behavior of the physical universe were known.” Most, in fact, said that the study of physics was mostly completed, except for small details. A few oddities occurred, such as the discovery of X-rays (1895), but most scientists believed such oddities would be later explained by existing theory.

But as the new century dawned, the world was set on its ear. Accepted scientific evidence declared it impossible to fly a plane under it’s own power, but then Orville and Wilbur Wright did it at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903. Many other things were once said to be impossible, based on prevailing scientific theory: breaking the sound barrier, television, satellite communications, atomic power, atomic microscopes, antibiotics, and much more. But in every case, science was untrue, unreliable, and unsure. Therefore, science never has been and never will be able to discover Truth.

It’s interesting that some honest scientists recognize that science does not discover Truth. Albert Einstein, for example, once remarked concerning how nature works: “We know nothing about it at all. Our knowledge is but the knowledge of school children . . . We shall know a little more than we do now. But the real nature of things—that we shall never know, never.” Einstein was honest enough to admit that science could not discover “the real nature of things,” which is what the word Truth means.

British philosopher of science Karl Popper wrote even more pointedly: “All scientific statements are hypothesis, or guesses, or conjectures, and the vast majority of these conjectures . . . have turned out to be false. Our attempts to see and to find the truth are not final, but open to improvement; . . . our knowledge, our doctrine, is conjectural; . . . it consists of guesses, of hypothesis, rather than of final and certain truths.”

So is science of any value? Certainly; it is very useful. Thousands of inventions have been made that make life easier. Chemistry, medicine, mechanics, and physics all contribute to making life more comfortable and more productive. But science does not and cannot provide Truth because it changes. Something else that is sure and reliable is needed.

Friday, September 9, 2011

“What Is Truth?”

Before moving on in our exposition of Ephesians, there is something in 1:13 that captures our attention—In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. In the next few installments, I would like to share a burden that has been on this pastor’s heart for over a year.

We live in a day when the concept of truth is more and more challenged. Never before has there been such a redefining of Truth. Many, in fact, deny that there is any Truth at all. In stark contrast, however, the Word of God, in no uncertain terms, makes it clear that there is Truth and that Truth is to be found only in God and His Word.

With this in mind, let us look at three principles that carry tremendous significance in our day.

First, the Meaning of Truth. In John 18:37-38, Pontius Pilate asked the Lord Jesus, “Art thou a king?” Our Lord responded, “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” What a powerful statement! “If you would have Truth,” He is saying, “you will hear Me.” To that Pilate spoke three words—probably in at least a cynical if not contemptuous tone—that have echoed through the millennia: “What is truth?” Countless philosophers have asked that question, but few have been able to answer it.

The most noteworthy thing about that scene is that while Pilate asked a legitimate and pivotal question, he did not wait for an answer, rather “when he had said this, he went out again.” Think of it—he was standing in front of Truth Incarnate but walked away. And people have been walking away from Truth ever since.

Especially in light of the present day, it is imperative that we look at the meaning of the word Truth. Without going into detail, when one studies the word Truth, both in the English and the Greek (alētheia), he finds that it means what is real, what really is, what is factual. It’s not opinion, it’s not conjecture, it’s not hypothesis or theory. Rather, it is, like the old expression, “telling it like it is.” If something is true, it is absolutely reliable, totally secure. It cannot change because to do so would mean it’s not true, not reliable. Further, Truth refers to that which is absolute, that which is incontrovertible, irrefutable, incontestable, unarguable, and unchanging. If something is true, it is always true and can never be untrue, no matter what the circumstances.

Where, then, can Truth be found today? Is there any source of Truth that matches the definition we just noted? There are numerous claims to Truth in the world, but are they really sources of Truth? Do they offer that which is sure, reliable, and unchanging? In the installments that follow, we’ll take a brief look at three of the world’s best claims of how to discover Truth: Science, Philosophy, and Religion.

If you would like to read the complete study on which these brief installments are based, you can do so online at www.TheScriptureAlone.com.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Our Response To God’s Riches

Having considered Paul’s statement, “to the praise of His glory,” in our last installment, this brings us to the close of Paul’s glorious “song of praise” (vs. 3‑14). We recall once again that this passage is one long sentence in the Greek. Paul was so carried away by the Truth of these words that he could not stop as it all flowed from his heart and right through his pen. Hopefully, we now understand why that was so. Oh, the riches, the glorious wealth we have in Christ!

Commentator William Hendrickson, ends his comments on this passage by writing: “Is it any wonder that when the apostle ponders the fact that he himself and also those addressed had been emancipated from the most dreadful evil and had been restored to the most unimaginable good, and this by the very God against whom they had rebelled, and at such a cost, and that God had even given to them the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of future climatic bliss when they would receive their gull inheritance and would stand forth in dazzling splendor as God’s very own,—in view of all this is it any wonder that he begins his magnificent doxology by saying, ‘blessed (be)’ and that he ends it with ‘to the praise of His glory?’”

That’s how Paul responded to these great truths, but may we each ask ourselves, “How should I respond to the great truths of this passage?” I would encourage you to read the passage often and consider that there should be at least five responses.

First, response should come in our Worship. As we’ve seen, the whole passage speaks of what God has done, and three times Paul exults, “to the praise of His glory.” This should transform and deepen our sense of awe and worship of The One True and Living God. Unlike the typical service of our day, which is based on entertainment and people-centeredness, this passage should drive us to selfless worship.

Second, response should come in our Walk. God’s reason for electing us was to make us holy that we could then live holy. Our entire Christian life and walk then is a life of godliness.

Third, response should come in our Witness. We do not worship or even acknowledge the existence of the dead gods of the pagans or the false gods of science, philosophy, and religion. We worship The One True and Living God, and it is this message that we take to the world.

Fourth, response should come in our Wisdom. Our wisdom is not in or of this world, rather in the Truth of God’s revealed Word. If we respond correctly to this passage, then all that we do will be based on that authority alone. All we need is what God says.

Fifth, response should come in our Watching. While we have received the down payment of our inheritance in the form of the Holy Spirit, the final inheritance and glory is yet future. May we be expectantly waiting and watching for the coming of our Lord in glory.

Friday, September 2, 2011

“To The Praise of His Glory”

There is a phrase that the Apostle Paul uses, in varying forms, three times in Ephesians 1. In verse 6, the phrase is, To the praise of the glory of his grace; in verse 12, it is to the praise of his glory; and finally in verse 14, it is unto the praise of his glory. What is the significance?  No one says it better than Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “The first and greatest truth concerning salvation is that it is a revelation of the glory of God.”

Some commentators view these phrases as a Hebraism, that is, simply Paul borrowing a concept from the Hebrew to praise God’s grace in general. But as Greek commentator John Eadie, puts it, this is a “feeble exegesis.” It’s not God’s grace in general that’s being praised, “but this one special element of that grace” that’s being praised.  In other words, Paul is specifically praising the aspect of God’s grace that brings salvation.

The reason for Paul’s repetition is obvious—he wanted to emphasize the significance of this Truth. God did not save us just because He loved us, but He saved us, first and foremost, to bring glory to Himself. This is not “divine arrogance” as some have irreverently suggested, for God is totally worthy of praise. The word glory (doxas) came to mean “brightness, splendor, and majesty.” All that God does is designed to further manifest His brightness, splendor, and majesty.

Modern evangelism is permeated by the idea of telling people what salvation can do for them: it will solve all their problems, make them rich, make them better athletes, and a mountain of other such man-centered nonsense. But rarely do we ever hear a pastor or so-called “evangelist” talk about the glory of God being the ultimate result of salvation.

So, the final result (or goal) of God’s work in salvation (including election, adoption, redemption, sealing, and all else) is that we will praise Him. This is the reason for Paul’s words, To the PRAISE of the GLORY of His GRACE! This is not the praise of the worshipper of a pagan god, who worships to appease his god. Neither is this praise to man, for man can do nothing worthy of praise. Rather this is genuine adoration for what God alone has done. A footnote in the Geneva Bible of 1599 reads: “The uttermost and chiefest final cause is the glory of God the Father, who saves us freely in his Son. That as his bountiful goodness deserves all praise, so also it should be set forth and proclaimed.”

Oh, Dear Reader, do you see this marvelous truth? God did all the work of salvation so that we will praise Him. Are you praising Him? Puritan pastor and commentator Matthew Henry encourages, “We should live and behave ourselves in such a manner that his rich grace might be magnified, and appear glorious, and worthy of the highest praise.” Are we doing this?

Many times during the preparation of these studies, I stopped to meditate on these three phrases. As a result, the Holy Spirit burned them into my heart and mind and forever changed me. I would likewise encourage you to stop here, put the newspaper down, and simply meditate for a few minutes. Let the words ring in your mind, sing to your heart, roll off your tongue, and permeate your life. Praise be to God—our salvation is all of grace.

This prompts us to consider once again one of the most important thoughts of our study of Ephesians, namely, What is God’s ultimate purpose? In short, as verses 3-12 declare, God’s ultimate purpose in human history is to restore the unity be­tween man and God so that man can glorify Him.