2 Corinthians 3:Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not! 2 The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our[your] hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. 3 Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. NLT
Stone is so enduringly permanent it’s surprising the truth of those letters carved on tablets of stone is lost. But is it?
The recent pandemic has tragically highlighted just how vulnerable life can be. That makes it equally surprising that God has now chosen to write the permanence of His truth in human hearts. The letters of eternity and permanence no longer lie in impenetrable stone. God has rewritten His own truth in our/your heart. That truth rewrites the story of a stubborn, stony hearta being replaced with a tender, responsive one able to feel, think, grow and replicate God’s own heart one to another. “Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.”
aAnd I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. [Ezekiel 36:26]
Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Paul is purposefully using a type of word play in much of this chapter that I didn’t include above. His words are meant to shift the focus of familiar concepts and challenge thought processes about how we interact with God. There were two things I read in preparing for this post that were helpful to me. One was a line from The Message version of Romans 3; “Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.” The second was from one of John Piper’s writings about this chapter where he referred to the Law as a track, not a ladder.
Ladder-thinking regarding God, sin, obedience to the Law, faith and justification seems to be part of human nature. I know my own tendency is to want a list to check items off so I can move on to the next rung. Instead God has provided reality. Life is filled with either/or’s, if/then’s and hide & seek’s. It’s like a track where the same laps must be repeated over and over in order to achieve the desired goal. That is exactly why Paul’s challenge from Romans is so important today.
• Sin hides us from God.
• The Law of self-preservation hides us from grace.
• Self-preservation hides us from obedience of the heart.
• Christ reveals the truth of the Law and obedience of the heart
• Obedience of the heart reveals faith
• Faith reveals grace
* Grace reveals justification
• Justification reveals God’s righteousness.
These realities are a vital part of our relationship with the Sovereign God of the universe through Jesus Christ. There is not a ladder, only a track. Repeat laps as needed.
John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”…16 “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. ESV
Nicodemus is our mirror for today. He’s aware of Jesus. He’s heard the stories. He’s an inner-circle part of a well-established religious organization that desires to assure people of their position with God. But Nicodemus realizes desire isn’t the same as reality. He wants to make personal contact with Jesus because he sees Jesus is able to reveal the power of God in the lives of people that makes assurance more than just a possibility. He’s curious about that. Can you see yourself in Nicodemus’s story? I can.
Curiosity and contact with Jesus are the essence of the assurance of being “born of the Spirit.” God still uses them both to convert desire into possibility and then finally into reality…For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 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.
3:13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot,[b] 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. NLT
Jesus “started a little society of his own–and a very queer society it was. There were some fishermen; there was a reformed tax-collector; there was a fanatical nationalist. They were not the kind of people whom any ambitious man would particularly want to know. They certainly were not the kind of people who would be any good to a man who was set on a career. No sensible man, they must have been thinking, would pick a crowd of friends like that. They were definitely not the kind of people a prudent man would want to get mixed up with.a“
Edification [the improvement of a person morally or intellectually].
Today’s lesson for you:
[Jesus] “called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.”
aWilliam Barclay on Mark 3
I followed a familiar pattern as I was looking for the next blog post study for myself; look at resources, look at what I’ve already written in the past and repeatedly pray “show me.” I get a lot of extra reading done in this process and at some point something clicks and I realize I’m ready to begin the next chapter. I’ve spent much time reading and pondering the first two chapters of each New Testament book in the past [The Firsts and Second Chance] so The Third Chapter seems like both an answer to my prayer and a logical choice.
Matthew 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” 4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
The wilderness is not the setting you’d expect the advancement of a Kingdom to happen. A baptist living a very humble life in the middle of nowhere is not who you’d expect to be part of the fulfillment of an ancient promise. The confession of sin and sacrifice was familiar but there are some unusual things that make this baptism of repentance the direct path to God.
Only that path can establish the multitude of nations that God promised Abraham. Only that direct path can open the heavens “to fulfill all righteousness.” Only that path can provide another baptism mightier than water, and more powerful than devout sacrifices alone can. Only Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, can build a Kingdom of promised purity and true repentance within the hearts of the children of God. Only Jesus!
Matthew 3:16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
NIV Eph 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”c 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
c Gen 2:24
This part of Ephesians 5 is a challenge because it’s familiar. Countless, is how I’d describe the number of times I’ve read or heard these verses and familiarity tends to become like unconscious editing. So, here’s what we already know about submission:
– Wives: submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.
– Husbands: just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
It’s so easy to massage that truth about submission into something related to behavior that soothes our conscience instead of letting it change our relationship to each other and to the church we love “out of reverence for Christ.” I know about that personally. I also know there is a reality check that challenges me to look at how I am living that truth.
As a wife can you honestly look at your relationship to the Lord and integrate that into your relationship to your husband? Or from the other side of the issue, does your relationship to your husband look like your relationship to Jesus? No one else can write the rules of what your submission should look like but your honest answers to those two questions is the essence of true submission that makes reverence for Christ visible to the world. How’re you doing?
Now husbands, here’s your first question: How does your relationship to your wife give evidence of your love for the church? Or from the other side of that issue does what happens in your personal relationship to your wife bring honor to the church? No one else can guess your answers but their honesty is what makes it possible to honor your bride as well as the Bride of Christ, the church. How’re you doing?
EPH 4:26 “In your anger do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. ESV
One easy response to conflict and anger is the the ostrich effect: a cognitive bias that causes people to avoid information that they perceive as potentially unpleasant.
The ostrich effect may be comfortable but it has no power to make things right. Anger is uncomfortable but it’s powerful and often feels right. Don’t miss the reality this Scripture warns us of; “In your anger do not sin.” Your personal faith is the power over those emotions of anger and conflict. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” and give “the devil a foothold.” He plans to steal the power of your faith in the darkness.
NLT Eph 2:19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.
ESV Eph 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[sojourners] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by[IN] the Spirit.
Those [footnote] brackets have become a valuable alert in Scripture which hold gifts designed to broaden our faith. The carefully thought out phrases or words within those brackets are so much more than the work of dedicated translators. Footnotes matter because they are one way God uses to reveal the fullness of His truth through the many translations of His Word. They challenge us to consider even a simple two-letter preposition like “IN” as a breath of fresh air that opens the eyes, the mind and the heart to greater understanding. [IN] is a footnote of fulllness that reveals God’s heart for our personal growth.
NLT: “you…being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” Those are familiar and true words with the blessing of Good News that we are the dwelling place where “God lives by His Spirit.”
ESV: “you…being built together into a dwelling place for God by[IN] the Spirit.” There’s the same familiarity of truth and blessing but with the Good News broadened by the emphasis of a simple [IN]. God ‘lives by His Spirit” throughout all time because “we are carefully joined together in” Christ as “saints and members of the household of God” to enable us to live “for God [IN] the Spirit.”
ESV Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
NLT Eph 2:8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Take a minute and think of how many times you’ve heard yourself say “I should.” We are by nature a people of “shoulds,” even when it comes to our faith. Should’s are like the underbelly of human response compared to God’s Grace. Grace is “the gift of God.” That gift is the foundation of His heart that validates every aspect of our faith. “And you can’t take credit for this;”…your repentance, your transformation, your growth, your study, your wisdom, your knowledge and understanding of your relationship to God and it’s impact on your human relationships and behavior.
Only by fully accepting how powerful Grace is in our life can we come to realize there is nothing in that list that is dependent on our “should’s.” Grace is responsible for our repentance, our transformation, our growth, our study, our wisdom, our knowledge and understanding of our relationship to God and it’s impact on our human relationships and behavior.
This is the Word of God: “We are God’s masterpiece.” He has “created us anew in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is the Piece of the Master created within us to change our human nature from “should’s” to our response of the heart “so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, [Or until God redeems his possession] to the praise of his glory. ESV
In him [God] making known to us Christ to unite all things. In him we have obtained an inheritance, sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [UNTIL God redeems his possession] to the praise of his glory.
“Until” is just one word in these few verses but it has become the laser-like focus of the promise of a future inheritance from God. Hope is “set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Our trust and hope in Christ is part of the “plan for the fullness of time…UNTIL God redeems his possession to the praise of his glory.“