Tuesday, March 28, 2017

170326 Stand Therefore

Ephesians 6:14-17 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
Paul is writing to the congregation that he served, so far as we know, longer than any other. By his own testimony Paul served in Ephesus for three years. In most cases Paul was only there for a matter of days and then he pushed on. The great Apostle planted churches all across the Roman Empire. Having such a strong investment in the church at Ephesus Paul wanted them to be sure they were able to defend themselves against the enemy.
I praise God that Paul had this concern because it led him to write this excellent book we call “Ephesians”! We desperately need today to have the kind of spiritual strength Paul and his readers seem to have had. This section of the letter is a transition from practical direction for the family and for a Christian relationship in the community.
The section begins with, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” (Ephesians 6:10). The strength we received from the Lord includes the whole armor of God. Which will allow us to stand against the schemes of the devil. So we look at the individual pieces that the apostle saw beginning with…
The belt of truth. Let’s look at Colossians 1:3-5. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel.
The belt holds everything together. Anytime a person goes into combat he, or she, will need a good sturdy belt. According to Paul’s letter to the Colossians the truth is identified as “the gospel”.
When the Roman governor, Pilate, was given the responsibility of serving as the judge in Jesus’ kangaroo court trial. In questioning Jesus, Pilate In questioning Jesus asked, “So you are a King?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” This statement by Jesus caused Pilate to ask, “What is truth?” (John 18:34).
Truth is absolutely necessary for any of the armor to work. In the Gospel of John Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit Is the Spirit of Truth. He promised that after he left the earth the Spirit of truth would come and guide them into all truth (John 15:26).
In Jesus’ high priestly prayer he asked the Father to sanctify his disciples in the truth. Then he says, “your word is truth” (John 17:17). Therefore we can expect that the gospel, based on the word of God, is grounded in truth and in fact is the truth that we put on as our belt in preparation for spiritual warfare. Above the belt is…
The breastplate of righteousness. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 5:21. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
I am so grateful that we do not have to “work up” righteousness. The best we could do along that path would be like showing up at a fancy party in ragged and dirty clothes. Isaiah described our righteousness in the following words “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6a). The breastplate is very important because it covers most of our vital organs. The heart and lungs are covered by the breastplate. In order to have a breastplate of righteousness we turn to Jesus. God made him to be sin so that he could pay sin’s wage on the cross, paying our debt, and setting us free. The righteousness that we have is not something that we have earned or would ever be able to earn. In order for us to have spiritual righteousness we have to come to Christ and believe into him. And when that happens Christ becomes for us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, (1 Corinthians 1:30). Since we have put on the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness it is essential that we have…
Shoes to carry the Gospel. Let’s look at Isaiah 52:7. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The Roman soldiers had a very special kind of shoe, or sandal, that was fitted perfectly to the foot and securely strapped up onto the calf. The sandal had many iron spikes protruding through the sole giving the soldier the ability to stand and fight.
Spiritually speaking, we need the kind of shoe that will allow us to carry the gospel wherever we go.
I’m reminded of Jesus’ great commission! Let me paraphrase it. Jesus said that all authority in the spiritual world and on earth was given to him. As a result of that those who believe in him should go in that authority and disciple the nations. The word that we translate “go” could, and perhaps should, be translated “as you go”. Wherever we go the world around us should be changed. Too often it is the Christian that is changed as they are going! We should not be overwhelmed by the world rather we should be transformed by the renewal of our mind. When we are we will be able to see more clearly God’s will for the world we live in.
With truth wrapped around our waist and righteousness from God covering our chest and sturdy shoes making us able to stand against all that the enemy throws against us we can take up…
The shield of faith. Let’s look at Hebrews 11:6. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
The typical Roman personal shield was made of thick oak and covered with leather. As a result of its construction it could stop arrows and even flaming darts. Our shield is not constructed of wood and leather it is constructed of faith!
The writer of Hebrews tells us what faith is. Faith is believing that God exists and that he rewards those who reach out to him. I have to offer a word of caution given to us by James, the Lord’s half-brother. He said, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder” (James 2:19). That knowledge does not mean that the demons are saved. Knowledge alone is not enough.
Knowing the facts and agreeing with them is just not enough. Nicodemus knew that Jesus had come from God. This did not mean that Nicodemus had saving faith. He still had to put his trust in Christ for salvation! He had to believe in him! Knowing about God and agreeing with that knowledge does not constitute faith. King Agrippa was confronted with the gospel when he was examining the apostle Paul. Paul asked him if he believed the prophets and then added, “I know that you believe” (Acts 26:27) the king’s reply to Paul shows us that he did not have faith.
Knowing the facts and agreeing with them are steps in the right direction. Someone has quoted saving faith as “trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God.” Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, P 710.
Saving faith is not just a belief in facts but a personal trust in Jesus to save me. An unbeliever becomes aware that sin has separated him or her from the fellowship with God that we were made to have. That awareness of separation is designed to cause the unbeliever to come to Christ so that he or she can enter into a genuine relationship with God that will last forever.
Faith is not simply believing in the existence of Jesus or even that he died on the cross for our sins. At the same time faith is certainly not a leap in the dark! It is not believing something that is clearly not true. Biblical faith is a personal trust that God will do what he said he would.
In the beginning of his Gospel, John said that all who received him who believed in his name receive the power to become children of God (John 1:12). So, when we think of…
The helmet of salvation. We should turn to John 3:16-17.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
At one time John 3:16 was the most commonly known and most often quoted verse in Scripture. Today, people seldom quote Scripture out of a probable fear of rejection by society in general. Hopefully we are now coming into a period of time when the word of God will be more acceptable in public. The helmet of salvation that we receive from God protects the most vital organ — the brain! I suspect that our souls live in our brain. I don’t know how to prove it but it seems certainly logical to me.
Our faith in Christ is based on more than his having been sent into the world. Our personal faith in Christ is based on his having taken our sin to the cross, and burying it in a grave and leaving it there. He took our sins into his own body and nailed it to the cross. Therefore, we are able to believe into him and receive eternal life. The prophet Micah wrote, “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You (referring to God) will cast all our sins into the depth of the sea” and Miss Corrie ten Boom said that God posted a “NO FISHING” sign over them.
The word of God is essential to our faith. Therefore it is very important that we understand that it is trustworthy as well. Throughout Scripture we are told that the Bible’s words are completely true and without error. The Bible is God’s word and it tells us that God cannot lie! The words of God are like pure silver refined in a furnace. The original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. Having protected our vital organs and having put on the belt of truth we see that the Bible is…
The sword of the Spirit. Let’s turn to Hebrews 4:12. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
After nearly 2000 years of examination the Bible stands out as the truth. There are constantly attempts being made to proclaim the Bible as a book of myth. After all that time there is no strong candidate for a book or letter to be added to the Bible and there is no strong objection to any book presently in the Bible.
There are a good number of books or letters written in the early centuries of the church none of which have the quality of the included books. I am so grateful to God that he has given us a book that is alive and active enabling us to know the mind of God. Everything we need to know is found in this book — the word of God! You can trust its veracity!
The prophet Jeremiah characterized the word of God as being like fire which consumes its enemies and like a hammer that breaks up opposition. (Jeremiah 23:29) It’s very important that we know what the Bible has to say. If we know what the Bible says, even if we do not understand it at the moment, when we need it we will understand it and be able to apply it to our personal situations. The word of God calls upon us to believe into the Lord Jesus Christ. And such belief produces salvation. Don’t put off trusting in Jesus. Let today be your day of salvation. And having assurance of salvation take your stand and see the salvation of God.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society

Saturday, March 18, 2017

170319 Our Spiritual Warfare

Ephesians 6:10-13. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
It is so easy for believers to fall into one of the many traps laid in our path by Satan. As I look at, and listen to, the world around us and see, and feel, the hatred and anger that fills society I am disappointed that so few Christians recognize the fact that our real enemies are not people but instead are spiritual. Let’s begin today’s study by recognizing several facts the Holy Spirit gave for our benefit.
We should never allow ourselves to believe that because we are Christians we are stronger than Satan. In ourselves we really do not have any spiritual strength. However, the Bible very clearly teaches that the church has power against demonic opposition and we should exercise it. Our calling is to be faithful to the word of God in organizing the church and exercising Godly discipline.
We must remember that…
Our strength is in Jesus. Let’s look at 1 Timothy 1:12-14. I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
We should be grateful that God has given us strength in Christ Jesus our Lord. That strength was shown in the life of the apostle Paul. He had lived a life of powerful opposition to the Christian church. But God chose him to carry the gospel across the Roman Empire planting churches everywhere he went. He was able to do this because the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ was poured out on him and overflowed into the world around him. That grace produced faith and love in his life.
There is no reason to doubt that God will do today what he has done in the past. He has given us strength in Christ Jesus. That strength will flow out from our lives into our world. Because of the faith we have in Jesus we will be able to project his love into our world.
But it is not just Jesus giving us the strength…
We must actively participate in the struggle. Let’s look at Romans 13:12-14. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Having repented of our sin we have been called out of darkness to put on the armor of light. Having received Jesus Christ as Lord, God graciously brings us into a living relationship with himself and begins the process of making us holy.
However, this is not a process that we stand by and watch God do. The Word says “let us” put aside our past which is called the works of darkness. Having put aside our past the Word says “let us” walk properly. In other words we are to live our lives out in a manner that is pleasing to God. The way we live should not be like the world around us instead we are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and not feed the flesh that we live in. “Put on” is an active participation with the work of God in us. When we do this God will give us the ability to put aside the evil desires that fill the world around us.
We must rejoice in the fact that…
God has provided protection. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 10:3-4. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
We are not left here on our own as we participate in the process of living out our lives to please our Lord. I remember many years ago hearing a preacher say that Jesus spent three years training his disciples and then he left them to do the work. Nothing could be farther from the truth! His disciples were not left to do the work. We are not left here to do God’s work for him. The Lord Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”  (Matthew 18:20) At the end of Jesus’ time on earth he commissioned his disciples and then assured them, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) We do not earn our salvation instead we demonstrate the salvation that came to us is a gift from God. Along with the salvation he has given us God enables us to grow towards spiritual maturity. The war we are involved in is not of this world. We are participants in war that is carried on with weapons that have divine power to destroy the enemy strongholds.
We are often almost overwhelmed by the actions of people on this earth but we must remember that…
Our real enemies are spiritual. Let’s look at 1 Peter 5:8-9. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
The force that causes people to oppose Christianity so vehemently is none other than Satan himself. He prowls over the spiritual landscape like a roaring lion. He is constantly looking for people whose eyes are not fixed on Jesus so he can pull them down and devour them. We must draw near to God and resist Satan. If we do not first come to God and establish and strengthen our relationship with him we have nothing with which to defeat our enemy. He is busy all over the world seeking to bring down the Christian church.
Now when I say that Satan is busy I did not want to imply that he is able to be everywhere present as God is. He has a huge army of demons who work for him and have influence on our lives. Satan does not know everything about us however he has, through his agents, observed our behavior. He knows what turns us on and what turns us off. Satan does not hesitate to send his demons to harass us. His harassment can lead us to strength, on our part, as we draw near to God and resist the devil.
Peter continued his encouragement in verse 10: And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
Our Lord Jesus defeated the enemy on the cross. He is able therefore to restore us when we fall, confirm us when we falter, strengthen us when we face evil forces and establish us so that we can remain faithful.
We should be encouraged by the words of Hanani the seer to King Asa in his time of trouble, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) And in the words of Jesus as he was strengthening his disciples for the road ahead, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b) the one who is with us always has already defeated our enemies. Even our greatest enemy, our fear of death. The writer of Hebrews told us, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)
We are not here just for the struggles of this time but…
We must prepare for the future battles. Let’s look at Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:12-13. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
Living for Jesus is never going to be a piece of cake. Nearly 300 years ago Isaac Watts penned a hymn that is still often sung today.
Am I a soldier of the cross, A follower of the Lamb, And shall I fear to own His cause, Or blush to speak His Name?
Must I be carried to the skies On flowery beds of ease, While others fought to win the prize, And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to grace, To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign; Increase my courage, Lord. I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by Thy Word.
As Watts observed, this world is not a friend to grace, to help us on to God. In fact this world collaborates with our flesh, and our enemy, Satan, to pull us down. The devil will do anything to disappoint and discourage us.
We may often be disappointed but we will never be defeated. We must never let disappointment turn into depression and defeat. When we do fall God is always there to increase our courage and remind us of his word. We all, like Peter, might find ourselves even denying our Lord but his promise to us is that when we fall he will pick us up and allow us to use our defeat as a training ground for victory. We may face all kinds of difficulties on this earth. When we do…
Then we must stand and God will give the victory. Let’s look at Romans 8:37-39. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“All these things”? Paul is referring back to the words in verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” This is certainly not an encouraging list of conditions. However, it is clearly the kind of conditions Christians have faced throughout the centuries. We must remind ourselves on a daily basis perhaps even on an hourly basis that we are, by God’s grace, more than conquerors! Not in our strength but in his who loved us enough to take our sins into his own body and die on the cross. No, more than that, he left the glory of heaven, where he had been eternally one with our Father-God, to be born in a stable and grow up in a little village as a human. Who lived out his life being tempted in all ways as we are yet without sin. Then to be taken, beaten and crucified for our sins. Folks, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Bible is filled with encouraging words to take us through whatever we are faced with and enabling us to stand firm. Next week we will look at some of the tools that God has given us so that we can be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. We will be able to put on the whole armor of God. Then, and only then, will be able to resist the devil so that he will put down his weapons and flee. I hope you have placed your full faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. If not, today can be your day of salvation.

All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society