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, February 27, 2012

Why Must Blood Be Shed? (Reader Question)

Before moving on to the next verse in our study (2:10), I wanted to address a question from a reader. Back in our study of redemption in 1:7 (August 12, 2011 post), we noted: “Why emphasize the blood of Christ so often? Why not speak more of His life than His graphic death? Because, as Hebrews 9:22 declares: ‘Almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.’ . . . Because of sin and guilt, blood must be shed for forgiveness.”

Question: Why must there be blood shed? I don’t doubt it. I believe that because the Bible says so. But why? Is there an answer for this?” (LT)

Answer: I would first commend you on your comment, “I don’t doubt it. I believe that because the bible says so.” That attitude demonstrates a life of faith and humility, one untainted by skepticism and unbelief.

As noted above, Hebrews 9:22 declares: “without shedding of blood is no remission.” Now, the reason for that is rooted in Leviticus 17:11, one of the key verses of the book, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” The principle behind atonement is life for life, and it is blood that is the critical symbol of life.

There is some fascinating history here that illustrates all this. In his 1628 book, On the Motion of the Heart and Blood, English physician Dr. William Harvey (1578–1657) was the first person to describe in detail the systemic circulation and properties of blood being pumped to the body by the heart (although others had similar ideas before him). “It is the fountain of life,” he wrote, “the first to live, and the last to die, and the primary seat of the animal soul; it lives and is nourished of itself, and by no other part of the human body.” He did, in fact, fully revive the Mosaic principle of the vitality of the blood. This principle was later adopted by the celebrated Dr. John Hunter (1728-93), professor of anatomy in London, who fully establish the reality of this through experimentation. Later, the eminent French zoologist Milne Edwards (1800-85) made this amazing statement:
If an animal be bled until it falls into a state of syncope, and the further loss of blood is not prevented, all muscular motion quickly ceases, respiration is suspended, the heart pauses from its action, life is no longer manifested by any outward sign, and death soon becomes inevitable; but if, in this state, the blood of another animal of the same species be injected into the veins of the one to all appearance dead, we see with amazement this inanimate body return to life, gaining accessions of vitality with each new quantity of blood that is introduced, eventual beginning to breathe freely, moving with ease, and finally walking as it was wont to do, and recovering completely.
So, as the ancient rabbis expressed it, the sacrifice offered life for life, soul for soul, an innocent victim atoning for the guilty party. That is what Christ did for us. He was the ultimate blood sacrifice. As we were dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-3), it was His blood that gave us life. It was that “blood transfusion” that saved all those who would believe.

Soli deo Gloria!

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Picture of Grace

In one last look at Ephesians 2:8-9—For 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—the great preacher and commentator Donald Grey Barnhouse recounts in his book How God Saves Men one of the most graphic pictures of salvation by grace I have ever read in my 30 years of ministry.

He tells the story of Henry Moorehouse, a social worker in the slums of 19th Century London, and a little girl that he befriended. As he was headed home one evening, he saw the little girl exit a basement store carrying a pitcher of milk, only to see her a few steps later slip, fall, and drop the pitcher, shattering it and spilling the milk into the filthy gutter. Broken hearted, the poor little girl began to cry. Moorehouse approached and tried to console her but to no avail. All she could say was, “My mommy’ll whip me.” Confidently, Moorehouse then said, “No, little girl, your mother won’t whip you. I’ll see to that. Look, the pitcher isn’t broken in many pieces.” He then stooped down, picked up the pieces, and began fitting them back together. The little girl had seen pitchers mended before, so she hopefully stopped crying as he worked. But then, working too roughly, Moorehouse knocked it apart, and the little urchin started crying again. Renewing his promise, Moorehouse said, “Don’t cry, little girl. I promise you that your mother won’t whip you.” Setting to work again, he got all of it back together except for the handle. He then gave it to her so she could attach the handle, but, of course, it fell apart again. This time her tears could not be stopped. So Moorehouse picked her up, carried her to a shop that sold crockery, and bought a new pitcher. Still carrying her, he went back to where she had bought the milk and had the new pitcher filled. Finally, after asking her where she lived, he carried her there, set he down on the step, handed her the pitcher of milk, and asked, “Now, do you think your mother will whip you?” With a radiant smile she answered, “Oh, no sir, it’s a lot better pitcher than we had before.”

That is what God has done in His grace. Once a whole creature, man was destroyed by a fall, shattered beyond repair. In his own efforts, he has tried through the ages to put the pieces back together but has failed miserably. God had to intervene, not by just fixing the old pitcher, where the cracks would show and leak, but by creating a new one. And just as that little girl could not pay Moorehouse for his kindness—since she didn’t have anything!—neither can man purchase salvation. It is all of grace, all because God desired to show undeserved kindness.

I would close our thoughts on grace with this sonnet:

            Grace. What a wondrous word it is to hear!
            What staggering thoughts it brings to mind!
            Delivering us from dead works and fear,
            It has opened wide the eyes of the blind.
            Grace. There’s surely no more glorious theme,
            Best defined as unmerited favor,
            Transforming us from sinners who blaspheme
             To the saints of God who give Him honor.
            Grace. No greater word can any man speak,
             No fuller expression of God’s glory.
            Tis God’s gift to the dead, not merely weak,
            The true heart of the salvation story.
                  One day we shall see Our Lord face to face.
                  And eternally praise Him for His Grace.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Proof of Grace (3)

Concluding our consideration of the Proof of grace, we again emphasize the truth of Ephesians 2:8-9: For 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.

It’s interesting that our entire society operates according to man’s performance. Early in their education, children learn that they are evaluated by their performance and thereby put into categories. Soldiers earn their ranks. Employees earn their positions and salaries. The Ford Corporation, for example, has a scale of 27 levels, Level 1 denoting clerks and secretaries and Level 27 reserved for the Chairman of the Board. An employee must be at level 9 to get an outside parking place, 13 to get a window, a plant, or an intercom in their office, and 16 before their office can have a private bathroom. Not to mention that most all of us, at one time or another, have said, “I need a vacation; after all, I’ve worked hard and I’ve earned it.” In the end, therefore, it all boils down to what each of us can boast in. 

Paul knew all too well about boasting. There was never a more self-satisfied person or a more self-assured person than Saul of Tarsus. Indeed, he was proud that he was Jew, proud that he was of the tribe of Benjamin, proud that he was a Pharisee, proud of his religion, proud of his morality, proud of his knowledge, and proud of his works. But now he says, none of us have anything to boast about. As he again wrote to the Corinthians, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Cor. 1:31). And to the Galatians he declared, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).

As Romans 3:23 declares: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Sin is missing the mark of God’s glory; that is, we shoot for the mark of God’s glory but miss it every time. To illustrate, at its widest point, the Grand Canyon is eighteen miles wide rim to rim, its average width is ten miles, and its minimum width is only 600 yards at Marble Canyon. Now, let’s assume several people try to jump the canyon at that minimum width, which works out to be a mere 1800 feet. Perhaps one can person jump only ten feet but another twenty feet. Perhaps someone else can even match the current world record long jump distance of 29 feet, four and a half inches. Or let’s even assume by some super human feat that one jumper went 1,799 feet, 11 inches. Do any of them make it? No. What difference is there between ten feet and 1,799 feet, 11 inches? None whatsoever. All have fallen short and died! That is why we need grace.

This is precisely why we went into such detail to define grace in an earlier installment. To say that we must add our works to God’s grace is the most contradictory statement we could ever formulate. Any theology that mixes grace with works or faith with merit, no matter how sincere the motive, is simply heresy, plain and simple, and is to be cursed as Paul states in Galatians 1:8-9.

Having said that, does that mean that works have no place whatsoever in the believer’s life? Does that mean that works are meaningless and irrelevant? Absolutely not, as Paul makes clear in the very next verse: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Good works do not produce salvation, but salvation most certainly produces good works.

This is also what James means when he writes about faith and works. True saving faith produces good works as an evidence of what God has done solely by grace. As James asks, what evidence of true saving faith is it if a Christian brother or sister is naked and hungry and comes to our door but we respond, “Oh, well, God bless you,” and then shut the door (2:15)? No, as proof of our salvation, we will bring him in, cloth him, and feed him. Those who pervert the Gospel, however, say, “By bringing him in, giving him suit and meal, we have contributed to our salvation and that will help us get to heaven.” But that is not grace; that is works.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Proof of Grace (2)

Looking again at the Proof of grace in Ephesians 2:8-9—For 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—we see a third principle. Not only does salvation have nothing to do with us, and not only is it a gift, but it is also not of works, lest any man should boast. In spite of this phrase, there are many who resort to their own works, their own religion instead of God’s grace alone.

There is, indeed, a dramatic contrast between “religion” and “Christianity.” We can put it in at least two ways: Religion is works‑oriented, while Christianity is grace‑oriented; or, religion tries to earn salvation, while Christianity gives salvation.

“Religion” is no less than an insulting slap upon the face of the Lord Jesus. He has offered salvation as a gift, but the reply from the religious man is, “Oh, no, I must earn it; I must do something.” We hear it countless times and in countless ways: “I must earn it;” “I must work for it;” “I must agonize for it.” Would we not be hurt and insulted if someone replied that way to a gift we gave them out of love? One might say, “Oh, well thanks, but I owe you one.” Another says,  “I’ll pay you back.” NO! It’s a gift. How much more then is our Savior insulted and grieved at any works‑oriented salvation?

Charles Spurgeon thundered this in his sermon, All of Grace: “Some try to lay hold upon salvation by grace through the use of ceremonies; it will not do. You are christened, confirmed, and caused to receive ‘the holy sacrament’ from priestly hands, or you are baptized, join the church, sit at the Lord’s table: does this bring you salvation? I ask you, ‘Have you salvation?’ You dare not say ‘yes.’ If you did claim salvation of a sort, yet I am sure it would not be in your minds salvation by grace; for those who are most addicted to the performance of outward rites are usually the last persons to enjoy any assurance of being saved by grace: they do not even look for such a thing. The more they multiply their rites and ceremonies, the more they quit the notion of grace, and the more they lose the true idea of salvation.’ What a statement! No works-oriented person can ever say, “I am there.”

How full of meaning and how packed with application are the words, Not of works, lest any man should boast. The Apostle Paul here makes it very clear that no man can boast, “I earned my salvation” or “I bought my forgiveness.” The Greek word behind boast (kauchaomai) means “to boast, vaunt oneself, be proud.” Paul uses it some 35 times in his letters. He rebuked the Corinthians, for example, “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (I Cor. 4:7). In other words, what do we have that we didn’t in one way or another receive? Why do we boast as if we did it ourselves? So Paul is telling us here that we in no way can we boast that our salvation is in any way whatsoever a result of any works we can do. People boast about Confirmation, Baptism, Church membership, Holy Communion, keeping the Ten Commandments, living the Sermon on the Mount, giving to charity, and living a moral life. Some people even boast about their faith (regardless of what that faith is in). But all boasting is rooted in works, not grace.

One writer offers a graphic illustration between grace and works by recounting a scene that seems to occur every year during the final game of the NCAA basketball tournament. We’ve all seen it—that one young player standing at the free-throw line with one second left to play, dribbling the ball nervously. If he makes these two shots, his team wins, he’s a hero, and he’ll have something to boast about and relive for the rest of his life. But if he misses, he’s the goat of the game and his college, and will probably be in therapy when he’s forty.

That’s the difference between grace and works. Man operates on the basis of works, on whether or not he can boast about sinking those free-throws. But God operates by grace; it’s not a matter of our performance but His; He has already done it all.