Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Christian in Armour

Clothed in Christ (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Paul, in his letter to Christians in Ephesus – probably a circular letter to churches in Asia Minor, modern Turkey – is a helpful overview of Paul's thinking. It covers many major themes before coming to the familiar text about the armour of God.

Paul begins by reminding faithful Christians that we are “blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

Verses one to fourteen of chapter one are one sentence in Greek and form a doxology, an expression of praise to God for his many and generous blessings, first through the Father (v 3) then through the Son (vv 4-13a) and finally through the Spirit (vv13b-15)

The Christian, we are told, is chosen (4,11), predestined (5,11), redeemed and forgiven (7), made wise in God's purposes (vv8-9), included in Christ and sealed to him (13), and has the Spirit as a guarantee of future inheritance in Christ (13,14)

Paul's prayer is that we understand, “the hope to which he has called you, the riches of your glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” He is anxious to impress upon us the eternal significance of his message for us (1:15-23 cf 3:14-21) a message of:

  • Spiritual resurrection 2:1-10
  • Cultural and religious reconciliation 2:11-22
  • Entry into God's eternal truth 3:1-13
  • A place with Christ in heavenly places 2:4-10

He encourages us in how we are to live in light of these great truths:

  • In the church in unity and maturity 4:1-16
  • In the world in love and as light 4:17-5:21
  • In the home in love, kindness and mutual submission 5:22-6:9

We have every reason, then, to “be strong in the Lord” as Paul writes in 6:10, because our strength is in God's “mighty power” and the armour he now writes about is, “the armour of God.” It is only so armed that “you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.” Indeed, it is because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against...the spiritual forces of the evil one...” that we must put on the armour of God's providing.

The belt of truth indicates that we are settled and firm in our conviction and character, not force, is is what wins the battle. Jesus said “I am truth” (John 14:6) When we understand the truth of Christ there is no lie that can bind us.

The breastplate of righteousness reminds us we are not righteous in ourselves but because we are in Christ we are justified, God pronounces us righteous and treats us as such. There is no condemnation in Christ (Ro.8:1); this breastplate protects us against all the accusations of Satan

The shoes of the gospel represent a readiness to tell the good news of Jesus and equip us to stand firm in the gospel. Our feet are protected by the gospel of peace (Ro.5:1)

The shield of faith is utilised by trusting on God's promises that protect us from our enemy. The shield of faith is the only movable part of the armour and can cover any area to protect us from the fiery darts the enemy sends. Faith in the finished and complete work of Christ (Ro.10:9).

The helmet of salvation is vital because our minds need to be renewed from the way of the world to the way of Christ (Ro.12:2). The helmet guards our minds, reminding us of God's promises for our future.

The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God by which we can destroy every false argument. But this is not a blunt instrument to hit people over the head with. The Spirit makes real the word of Christ in us and we share from that reality, bringing a life changing word to others (John 16:13).

This is not literal armour, each piece is an aspect of the completed work of Jesus Christ; to know the armour we are to know Him. We do not seek the armour but we seek the Christ and realise what is ours because of the complete work of Christ. This is the fully equipped Christian standing firm in the armour of God, clothed in Christ.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Atheists using the Bible to “Convert” Christians?

YouVersion is a wonderful Bible app for your phone, tablet, or computer. It offers different versions of the Bible in different translations, is very intuitive with the capability to highlight, bookmark and make notes, as well as offering a selection of reading plans. Its the sort of thing you might be surprised to find on the tablet of your regular atheist. Yet, it seems atheists are finding it helpful in winning arguments with Christians and even winning those Christians over to their Godless view of the world. You can read about it on the Religious News Service (RNS)


The first question that occurs to me is why are atheists bothering to make converts? Are they so determined to turn people away from a gospel of hope (gospel means Good News Mark 1:1 GNB) to their counsel of despair? I hear atheists complain that Christians speak of hell, yet here they are making hell on earth, robbing folk of the very hope of escaping a lost eternity. Nice one atheism!

Then, of course, there is a certain perverse delight taken in making converts. With apparent glee, one atheist said, “Nothing makes you an atheist faster than reading the Bible. It’s one of those beautiful side effects of having these Bibles free and easily accessible.”

When a Christian sees someone come to Christ they delight in their having stepped into the light of God’s love. It appears that these atheist delights in the reverse journey, taking great pleasure in having deceived a believer into the bleak darkness of their Godless world; and its not as though their arguments deserve consideration, much less respect.

Breaking the Rules

Some time ago I stopped into Waterstones bookshop to buy Richard Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show on Earth, an excellent volume, spoiled only by the regular snide and irrational asides about Christians, all of whom are put in the same category of mindless, insane, young-earth-creationist blind believers. Anyway, as I say, otherwise a good book.

When I took the book to the sales point two members of staff stood there and immediately entered into a conversation about the book. Oh, one exclaimed, has he brought out a new book? Yes, the other drooled, isn’t it absolutely marvellous, I must get one and read it.

Oh dear! Clearly, this wasn’t something they thought about, rather more something they subscribed to because it suited them; and they criticise Christians for being mindlessly unthinking!

People can be like that, don’t you find? They decide what suits them and order their thinking, such as it is, their lives,  their reading, conversation and their company accordingly. Of course, in many areas of life it doesn’t matter one jot. Getting your haircut, choosing a hobby, going to parties, planning a holiday. One man’s meat, as they say…

There are, however, some areas of life where it isn’t wise to ignore the rules, otherwise you can get into all kinds of trouble. Of course, it isn’t for me to lay down rules for others but there are rules in life and it is well worth giving them some consideration. For instance, when driving your car, crossing the road, wiring your house – gaining a clear and accurate understanding of the Bible.

Break the rules of society, of culture and of manners, and the consequences may not be the end of the world; indeed they might be fun. Break the rules of the road, of simple road sense, of electrical wiring, and you can end up very dead indeed. Break the rules of Bible reading and, in your death, you may end up…well.

Take the remarks of:

“Lauren, a 22-year-old chemistry major from Colorado, is not interested in the app’s mission to deepen faith and biblical literacy. A newly minted atheist, she uses her YouVersion Bible app to try to persuade people away from the Christianity she grew up in.

‘I know of a lot of atheists who have come to their nonbelief by actually reading the Bible rather than just the fluffy stories they choose to tell you about in church,’ she said. ‘Reading the full story with all its contradictions and violence and sexism, it should make you think, ‘Is this really what I believe in?’ At least it did for me.’” (quoted in the RNS article)

Oh, Do Grow up!

Dear Lauren, she speaks of ‘the fluffy stories they choose to tell you about in church,’ of the shocking things she discovered when she read the Bible for herself, and this is a characteristic of all those taking pleasure in parading their atheism, “travelling across land and sea to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, [they] make him twice as much a child of hell as [themselves].” (Mt.23:15)

The story, it seems then, is that these muddle-headed people have read their Bibles for the first time and, acting on their first impressions, have turned their backs on God. Having been more than satisfied with ‘fluffy stories,’ for which others are always to blame, since they never take responsibility for themselves, they turn to the Bible and, having consulted no one in particular, make of it what they will. That is breaking the rules.

You hear it in Lauren’s remark, ‘Reading the full story with all its contradictions and violence and sexism, it should make you think, ‘Is this really what I believe in?’ At least it did for me.’”

The atheist of this low calibre simply takes what they think the Bible means, and compares it with, ‘what I believe,’ dismissing what doesn’t suit them and feeling quite smug about it into the bargain. Oh, dear!

These people really should grow up, take some responsibility for their folly, learn and apply the rules. For instance, it is utter folly to compare the mores of our society with that of societies some two-thousand and more years ago.  This is a simple rule of historical research. But who needs rules when you have already made up your mind?

Not a Book of Instructions

Furthermore, the Bible is not a simple book of instructions. In many different literary styles it is a collection of poetry, parable, philosophy, theology, history, and of stories covering over 3,000 years. Some stories are examples, some are warnings. If you take the warnings for examples, well, of course you are going to be shocked. If you take the culture, practices, errors and sins of ages past as God’s ultimate ‘norm’ then you are going to be disappointed.

Even in the Bible, stories are culturally bound, so attitudes cannot be, and we should not expect them to be, so foreign to the surrounding society as to be completely alien and irrelevant. On the other hand, it is true that the Christian religion is, in its own way, most peculiar for its time, blazing a trail in cross-cultural harmony (Eph.2:11-21)emancipation for slaves and women (Gal.3:28) setting the bar high on issues of morality and civilised society (Mt.5-7). Indeed, the Judeo/Christian tradition laid a solid foundation for what we so take for granted today, Western concepts of freedom, equality, morality, justice and mercy.

The Bible is God’s Word and it only makes sense, it is a rule if you will, that you should allow God to speak for himself in his word. What does God mean by this? rather than, What words will I put in God’s mouth, what charge shall I lay at his door? It is wicked to caricature Bible lessons as ‘fluffy stories’ and, while it is commendable that someone should read it for themselves, it is a mistake to read into it our own prejudices, preconceptions and misunderstandings.

It is foolishness to think that, having nothing but what you regard as fluffy stories to draw upon, you should think yourself capable of fully understanding a document that has proved the better of generations who have tried to dismiss it, ban it and burn it, that has comforted and encouraged, educated and equipped countless Christians to acts of great courage, philanthropy, sacrifice and service . The 19th century preacher C H Spurgeon famously declared, “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.”

But then, if you come to it with your mind made up…

 The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’ (Ps.14:1)

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Complete Christian

What completes a Christian (James 1:1-4)

The James of this letter is probably the brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem Church. This most practical of all the letters in the New Testament comes from a man who knows about having his faith tested by the enduring of various trials. Some of the soundest advice for the practical Christian life can be found in these five chapters.

If we were asked if we wanted to be a complete Christian, being perfect and lacking nothing, I am sure there would be an immediate positive response. We may not be quite so ready to go through the process James describes to get there!

These verses are so foreign to the thinking of many of us as Christians. We always expect God’s blessings and we always expect Him to give us exactly what we want. If the trial we receive is in the guise of hardship that could not be God, some would say, because we are not being “successful.” If the trial we receive is in the guise of illness that cannot be right, some might claim, because God “always heals”. However I think you can see the difficulties we can get into if we look at things in that way. And the message of James reflects that of Jesus who declared:

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt.5:11-12)

There is a pattern here, beginning with the prophets, continuing with the experiences of Jesus and His disciples, and carrying on with a promise that much the same will be the lot of all those who believe - and encouragement. We are told to count it all joy when we encounter these trials because they will work a depth of spirituality in our lives that nothing else can.

We are also to draw from this that these trials may even come direct from God (Gen.22:1-2 c.f.) who knows all things and certainly will always seek to do what is best for us - He is on our side! Indeed, it is the embracing of these trials, whatever their source, and the permission given to God to let them work in our lives what he wants to work, that brings us through to a position of perfection and completeness.

The converse will also, therefore, be true. If I reject these trials as not coming from God, or not capable of being used by God, and refuse to let them do His work in my life I will inevitably be shallow and lacking so much in my Christian life. Tragically I believe we see that the result of a “bless me” mentality in the Christian Life is a lack of depth and knowing Christ as we really should.

James later writes:

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (v.12)

The writer to the Hebrews encourages us with these words:

“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained…There fore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:10-11, 28)

For someone with a vision of the kingdom every trial, every test of our endeavour and every discipline will met with joy and determination.  Crowns await the Christian determined to be complete in their faith and devotion, crowns of righteousness and peace and life, a kingdom and acceptance before a God who disciplines those he loves.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Spirit of Christ

The Promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Ephesians chapter 1 gives us a helpful picture of the Godhead in the work of salvation. It is against this background, in the course of his work, that we come to understand the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus spoke of the Spirit he promised, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

The Greek translated ‘another’ is allos, meaning another of the same kind. If Jesus had intended another of a different kind he would have said heteros. Last time, we saw how Jesus was there in the beginning, created ‘all things,’ is eternal and divine in nature and is to be given the same honour as the Father. Now, Jesus promises to send the Spirit, describing him (note ‘him’) as ‘another of the same kind.’ Here is the Christian God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Spirit is variously known as The Holy Spirit, indicating his divinity (John 14:26); The Eternal Spirit, indicating his eternal nature (Hebrews 9:14); Lord, showing God’s glory and Lordship in the lives of Christians (2 Corinthians 3:17); Power of the Almighty, meaning the very power of God (Luke 1:35); God, for to lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God (Acts 5:1-4)…

The Spirit of Christ

The expression ‘the spirit of’ is used in the Bible to express similarity of nature. The Son of God is, by nature, God. The Spirit of Christ has the same nature as the Son, who has the same nature as the Father, he is the Spirit of God (Matthew 3:16) the Spirit of the Son (Galatians 4:6) the Spirit of Christ -

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Romans 8:9)

Note in this reference that he is ‘the Spirit of God’ and ‘the Spirit of Christ.’

In our Ephesians text we see all three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, working together in the salvation of mankind:

Verses 3—4 show us that the Father is the originator of our salvation. It was ‘He who chose in in him before the foundation of the world.’

Verses 4—12 show that Jesus is the one who makes it all possible.  ‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…’

And verses 13—14 show that the Holy Spirit is the one who equips and makes it real within the lives of God’s children who are ‘sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.’

The fullness of our salvation has not yet been fully revealed but it will come because of the Holy Spirit within our lives.

Gifts and Fruit

We may not always feel that we are filled to overflowing: the widow who spoke to Elisha certainly did not (2 Kings 4.) She had to be reminded that she had the small jar of oil tucked away in some dark cupboard. Then she was encouraged to use it under the direction of Elijah, and what a miracle! The small amount of oil became a house full. Oil in the Old Testament is a picture of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we only have a small amount tucked away somewhere but we need to pour it out at the Lord’s command. We, too, will find it will keep pouring until the need is met.

The Holy Spirit also distributes gifts as he pleases (1 Corinthians 12:11). These enable us to bring the reality of the life of God to people in this world. When we see the Lord face to face we will not need the gifts, but until then they reveal God to people, and we should be seeking the Lord to release them through us.

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.’ (Galatians 5:22-23)

Paul goes on to urge us, ‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.’ (v.25)

Welcome the Holy Spirit into your life and give him the oppor­tunity to produce the fruits. Fruit is not just for you to hold and say how wonderful it looks. Fruit is to be tasted. Others will see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in you and will want to taste and see what it is.

Here is a remarkable truth. If you have believed and been saved it is because God chose you (vv 3-4), Jesus redeemed you according to God’s plan (vv 4-12), and the Holy Spirit sealed you in him as God’s possession, guaranteeing your inheritance in Christ (vv 13-14). We should exercise gifts and produce fruit according to the Spirit who gives them.