Tag Archives: Ephesians

Skills and Abilities

One of the things I enjoy doing in my spare time is playing League of Legends, an online game in which teams of players work together to destroy the opposing team’s nexus (essentially capturing their base). One of the game’s most prominent features is the sheer number of characters (champions) one can choose to play as. There are 124 champions currently, and the roster continues to grow. Each one of these champs has four abilities that can be activated and one passive ability that is always in effect. These abilities further define the character and shape their contribution to the team. Doing a little math:  124 champions, with 5 abilities each, means that right now, in-game, there are 620 unique skills potentially in play. Yet, from this dizzying variety, an order and strategy emerges that brings a team together as a unit able to accomplish goals and secure objectives.

Thinking about this, I am reminded of what Paul tells us about the Church body:  the diversity of gifts within it and its unity in the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes of how there are many different gifts in the Church but one common denominator:  “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works in all.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6) We each have things that we are talented at and things that we have a passion for. These are also things which we can and should offer back to God and share with Him. What I mean is that these gifts given to us by God are things which we can do with Him and honor Him with. Are you a fitness buff? Praise God for the marvelous machinery of human physiology. Help others to be good stewards of their bodies. Do you delight in reading? Give God glory for the power and beauty of written words. Give freely out of your experience with books to help others. Do you love cooking? Honor God for the complex challenges and simple joys of food. Share with others the delight to be found in the kitchen.

Above all else, though, the most important thing that any of us can do with our gifts is to grow closer to God and share that joy with others. It is easy to forego the spiritual impact of our gifts and turn into the dreaded “know-it-all” or to look down on others who don’t share our interests. However, God gives us these gifts to be a stepstool to reach up to Him, rather than a stumbling block for ourselves and others. The joy and delight that we have in God in the exercising and pursuit of our gifts is the crux of what we share with others. It is what overflows from our well to fill others.

When we step back and turn this perspective upon the Church, the roster of 124 champions and 620 skills found in League of Legends seems simple in comparison. However, the joining together of these diverse characters and abilities in a common goal can serve as a small example of how the Church body comes together in a common Spirit. Paul later writes of spiritual gifts:

“And He Himself (Christ) gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature and fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

-Ephesians 4:11-16

In loving God in what we do and sharing with others out of that love, we are built up in God and help build up others.

Chibi Abilities


Heroes and Villains – Marva Munson

Prof. G.H. Dorr:  “Yes, I must confess. I often find myself more at home in these ancient volumes than I do in the hustle-bustle of the modern world. To me, paradoxically, the literature of the so-called “dead tongues” holds more currency than this morning’s newspaper. In these books, in these volumes, there is the accumulated wisdom of mankind, which succors me when the day is hard and the night lonely and long.”

Marva Munson:  “Mm. The wisdom of mankind, huh? What about the wisdom of the Lord?”


At first glance, there is nothing particular about Mrs. Marva Munson that catches the eye.  In the 2004 film, The Ladykillers, she is a widow living alone with her cat Pickles and acts as landlord to the nefarious Professor G.H. Dorr who has rented out a room in order to use her house as a base for his scheme.  All appearances suggest that she is a typical little old lady, but her outward appearances belie a tenacity for doing what is right that puts many she encounters back on their heels.  The great battle she fights doesn’t take place in a distant location or epic landscape, nor does it contain the action we expect from such showdowns.  On the contrary, it takes place in her own living room, accompanied by a cup of tea.  When she discovers the Professor’s crime and sees through his attempts to mask it, the Professor attempts to mingle lies with smooth words in order to convince Ms. Munson to go along with their crime.  He even goes so far as to attempt to give her a cut by claiming that they are going to donate a full share of the loot to her favorite cause.  He also claims they actually caused little damage to anyone (only a penny from their pocketbooks), and suggesting that their robbery will lead to so much more good.  In the face of the Professor’s lies, she has a choice to make:  go along with the crime so that a “greater good” can be done, or turn them in, leaving all that good undone.  After much struggling and deliberation within herself, Mrs. Munson renders her answer:  stealing is just plain wrong, even if they had good intentions.  She then issues an ultimatum:  the Professor and his co-conspirators can either give back the money and accompany her to church tomorrow, or they can deal with the police.  This of course does not sit well with the robbers and sets off a series of events that unfolds throughout the remainder of the film.

The Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the church in Corinth:  “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.  For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words or human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)  What Paul writes here may strike us as remarkable.  He says that he came to the Corinthians “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” and that his speech was “not with persuasive words or human wisdom”.  This seems like the exact opposite of what we think witnessing should look like.  Why would Paul’s witness be of any effect if he didn’t base it off of persuasive words and human wisdom?  Paul states that his work among the Corinthians was based on Christ alone, in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.  This is not to say that reason has no place in religion, but rather that it has a proper place as a help and a handmaid to queen faith.  It is by reason that we recognize and appreciate the divine wisdom of God manifest in Creation.  It is at the limits of our reason that we come realize the transcendent majesty of God which excels our ability to know.  We do well to recognize that many of the apostles were uneducated, such as Peter the fisherman, but we do better to also recognize that there were apostles such as Paul who were well-educated; thus forming a spectrum of backgrounds upon one foundation. (1 Corinthians 3:11)

Paul’s aim in placing his witness on Christ alone was that the Corinthians’ faith wouldn’t be based upon the wisdom of men but on the power of God.  This is the difference between mere intellectual assent and a living, growing faith.  If our faith is purely intellectual, it amounts to little more than agreeing to an argument.  We agree to the proposition that God wants to be in relationship with us, to fill us with the life that is in him, and to conform us to the image of Christ.  However, this is merely an argument:  an ordered collection of ideas.  It has no life in it.  What’s more, it has its foundation in our minds through reason rather than in Christ through faith.  Trusting in the mind is the same as trusting in the flesh and is subject to the same weaknesses.  Just as our bodies are buffeted by passions and desires, so our minds are buffeted by the subtle deceptions of the devil and the World.  We come face to face with the Professor in many ways, shapes, and forms with the same goal of persuading us to bend to sin.  Thus, it is important that we be bound to Christ as a lifeline while we explore and cultivate the vast expanse of the mind.

The question that remains is what to make of Paul’s statement that his witness was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power rather than persuasive words or human wisdom.  To answer this we ought to ask ourselves, what is the demonstration of the Spirit in my life?  Or, put more simply, how am I more Christ-like now than I was?  Our arguments, no matter how finely-crafted, lack the ability to show God to others.  Christ did not show us the Father by laying out a series of well-reasoned lectures.  Instead, He showed the Father through who He was. (John 14:7-11)  If we are to follow His example, we must be conformed to His image and let God be reflected in our lives and who we are.

It is in Christ that our witness truly stands and it is in Christ that we must be anchored.  It is this unyielding faith in God that is a common thread running through all the heroes of the Bible:  Abraham, Moses, Rahab, David, Elijah, Mary, and Peter are only a few of the great cloud of witnesses which surround us and urge us onward in the race of faith.  Similarly, this is the remarkable thing that we see in Mrs. Munson:  a determination to follow God despite the sundry goods and arguments laid out in all their earthly splendor before her.  Perhaps that is the thing that all heroes call us to:  to do what is right despite challenge and temptation.  Pursuing this means giving God our all and submitting to His Lordship in our lives.  This means letting God be the most important thing and guiding principle for us.

Heroes, as well as villains, come in many shapes and sizes but what doesn’t change is the choice their characters bring before us:  to pursue what is right or to give in to what is wrong.  Villains remind us of the shadows lurking in our own psyches while heroes remind us that good is still within our reach if we will but strive for it.  It is within reach of us all because it is God who calls us and equips us.  “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till all come to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Food for Thought:

  1. Is Christ the foundation on which my faith is built, or is it something else?
  2. In what way do I feel threatened by relying on Christ alone?
  3. Consider the awesome greatness of God that He is our all in all and all-sufficient for us.

Called to be Chosen

The parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14) tells of a king who prepares a feast for his son’s wedding and sends servants to invite the guests.  However, after refusing the invitation once and being invited a second time, the guests either blew off the invitation and went about their business or mistreated and killed the king’s servants.  After sending out his armies and wiping out those who were originally invited (them and their city), the king sends out servants once more, this time to invite to the feast anyone and everyone they can find.  The servants do so and gather many people, bad and good, so that the wedding hall is full.  When the king comes out to see the guests, he notices a man who is not wearing a wedding garment (that is to say, he is not dressed for the occasion).  When confronted by the king, the man has nothing to say for himself and is cast out of the hall into the outer darkness where, “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Christ concludes the parable with the words, “For many are called, but few are chosen”.

When Christ says that many are called, He refers to the open invitation to life with God and living out the kingdom of heaven.  In the parable, invitations to the feast were ultimately given to everyone regardless of who they were, their status, etc.  Likewise, through the gracious and mighty work of God on the cross, everyone has been invited to be with God.  John 3:16-17 reads,

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Consider also the parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50) in which as many as possible are gathered and later separated, being either placed in vessels or thrown away.  The door to salvation stands wide open despite being on the narrow path.

Now, it is also true that the Bible contains much talk of “the elect” or “the chosen” and this must be addressed if one is to credibly speak about there being an open invitation to salvation and the kingdom of heaven.  The word used in these instances carries the connotations of being a higher quality; similar to choice cuts of meat or choice parts for a car or computer.  Perhaps, then, we might say that the elect are those chosen by God because they are of a certain quality.  However, we know that we not saved by works or achievement (Ephesians 2:8-9), so what is this quality and how is it found out?

While not a comprehensive study, the parable can help us to begin to get our minds around this.  We can first conclude that the man who was thrown out was called but not chosen while those who remained were called and chosen.  The man was thrown out because he did not wear a wedding garment and therefore he was not dressed appropriately.  (FYI, this is not a lesson on what we should or shouldn’t wear to church.)  He did not put off his old clothes and put on those befitting a wedding feast.  Likewise, we are called to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Although the man was called and came to the wedding feast, he did not respond to it.  He did not allow himself to be conformed to the nature of the feast.  We may show up at church or Bible study, but that alone does not mean that we’ve responded to God’s invitation to us.  To respond to that invitation is to believe in Christ who God has sent (John 6:27-29) and whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).  So it seems that the quality that separates the elect, that makes them God’s chosen, is to believe in His Son which means to submit to His lordship over our lives and to allow the Holy Spirit to shape us into Christ’s image.  That is what it means to be called and chosen.

The Law, Grace, and Zombies

In Romans 7-8, Paul draws a distinction between the law and grace that can be somewhat confusing.  However, this distinction is important if we are to better grasp what God has done for us.

The problem we face is the fact that we are, in Paul’s words “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).  One might say that we are like zombies:  up and moving around, but dead on the inside.  Borrowing an image from Ezekiel, we have a heart of stone.

Original image by Fiona the Awesome

Original image by Fiona the Awesome

This rock is stubborn and unyielding in its service to sin.

The first solution that comes along is the law.


The law tells us what we must do in order to be righteous, to be right with God.  The law is not bad in and of itself because it brings our sin to light and reveals it for what it is.  However, there are two problems:  the first is that the law is only able to address the outside, doing nothing for the dead heart of stone.  The second is that it tells us how to be righteous, but it doesn’t help us to reach the goal of actually being righteous.  What ends up happening is …


…that we are condemned and put to death by our sin working through the law.  The law only has power to convict.

Returning to our zombie analogy, the law-solution ends up fixing the zombie problem by killing the zombies.  Much like any anti-zombie tool, it isn’t a bad solution, but it isn’t the best solution either because those who have become zombies are still lost.

Although it has its problems, the law still accomplishes its purpose:  to show us that we can’t fix ourselves.  The law gives us the best set of rules possible, better than anything humans could come up with.  However, you can train a zombie not to eat brains, and it may not very often, but the hunger will always win out in the end.  We need something more, something better than the law.  We need a cure.

Enter grace:  the ultimate solution.  Through Christ’s work on the cross, we have the opportunity to be set right with God.  Christ received the consequences of our sin once and for all and we are able to receive the consequences of His righteousness.  As part of this, we receive God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, Who dwells in us.  Paul sums this up by saying, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  In the book of Ezekiel God says “I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh,” (Ezekiel 36:26).  This new heart is a cure for us because, with it, we are no longer dead inside and therefore are no longer the walking dead.

Original image by Fiona the Awesome

Original image by Fiona the Awesome

What’s more, the law is no longer an external set of rules, but is within us, written on our hearts of flesh (Jeremiah 31:33).  Therefore, grace accomplishes the internal change that the law was not able to.  As with any major surgery, it takes time to fully recover from this spiritual heart transplant (the Holy Spirit is our therapist who helps and encourages us).  There will be times that we stumble and relapse.  However, so long as we entrust ourselves to God’s care we will continue to heal until we get to heaven and the sin virus has been completely purged from our bodies and souls.

Being Alone With God – Conclusion

Retreating, sometimes called “wilderness time”, is a practice that we engage in to be formed by God.  I have suggested that we define this time as intentionally being alone with God.  We are mindful of our intentions because they set the tone for our time and actions.  Our intention in wilderness time is to submit to God and to His work upon us.  The way that we “be” with God is by setting aside distractions and the things that compete with Him for the top spot in our lives.  By doing this we are able to give our undivided attention to Him whether we are listening to what He is telling us or simply waiting on Him.  We are alone with God by finding a space where we are able to set aside the masks and pretenses that we hide behind.  In doing this, we stop withholding things from God and allow Him to work on us in our entirety.

This definition speaks to the heart of wilderness time but says nothing about the shape of it.  To put it differently, intentionally being alone with God is where we aim to be, but there is no special formula to get there.  For example, the way in which I go about setting aside distractions may be different than the way you do.  We seek the same destination but by different vehicles.

One thing that cannot be stressed enough is that God does not meet us only in the woods or only in the mountains.  To think that God is limited by elements or locations is to make the same mistake as the servants of Ben-Hadad after they had been defeated by the Israelites (1 Kings 20:23-25).  They reasoned that “their gods are gods of the hills.  Therefore they were stronger than we; but if we fight against them in the plain, surely we will be stronger then they.”  They thought that God would only be powerful as long as they were in the hills and so they sought to fight Israel in the plains, out of His reach.  However, God overthrew them in the plain just as He did in the hills.  God is not limited by location (Psalm 139:7-12).  I know of a fellow who goes down to the local coffee shop for his wilderness time because it is amidst the activity and goings on that he can best attend to God.

Although intentionally being alone with God is the end we pursue, it is not the ultimate goal of wilderness time.  The goal is to put ourselves in a place where we submit to God’s work upon us.  Paul describes this work in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

“But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:  that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

-Ephesians 4:20-24

In wilderness time, we listen to God and are taught by God.  He helps us to take off and throw away our old self that rots away as it serves sin.  He renews our mind and puts on us our new self that is made in His uncorrupted image.  This taking off and putting on occurs piece by piece in a process that will not be complete until we are with God in heaven.

In many ways we might think of this process as being given a bath by God.  We are His children bearing His image, but we have found a wonderful mud puddle and gotten ourselves absolutely filthy.  God has given us an invitation to be cleaned up and get a fresh set of clothes.  We truly accept His invitation by not only saying yes but actually letting Him give us a bath.  However, we can often be like unruly children (or perhaps more accurately, ill-tempered cats) during this process.  We resist what He is trying to do for us and many times run back to our favorite mud puddle only to realize that we were happier when we were cleaner.  Fortunately, God is patient and welcomes us back with open arms when we turn to go back to Him.  In wilderness time, we make a conscious effort to cooperate with the bath process and not fuss with Him.  In doing this we find that He is indeed an interesting cleaner.  Sometimes He tells us things about ourselves and sometimes He tells us things about Himself.  Sometimes He shares with us stories from long ago and sometimes He sheds new light on new stories.  Sometimes He speaks with us and sometimes He loves us in silence.

Perhaps this whole wilderness time/retreat business still seems rather vague and it is difficult to know where to start.  Here are a few ideas that you may find helpful:

1)      Find a place where you feel comfortable and alert, “alive” as it were.  Go there and read one of the Gospels in that state of mind.  Read at a leisurely pace, lingering at the parts that grab your attention.

2)      Find a spot where you can listen to you favorite music album without distractions.  When you listen to it, imagine that you are listening to it with God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit, whoever you are most comfortable with.  Imagine His reactions and what He would say to you as you listen together.

3)      Carve out some time to engage in your hobby.  As you go about it, ask yourself why you enjoy it.  Ask yourself where God fits into the picture:  how has He blessed you through it, how does it lead you to Him.

Again, these are merely suggestions to help you get started and see what wilderness time looks and tastes like.  Retreats/wilderness time is not something for only the monks and nuns or the “especially religious”.  It is something for anyone who is seeking God and to be formed by Him.  If you have been a Christian for many years and want to grow closer with God, the wilderness is calling.  If you are not a Christian and are merely curious, the first suggestion above is a great way to do some hands-on-learning.

The desert monks would often spend time in solitude in spaces they had found or built called “cells”.  The work of these monks in their cells is the same work we have been discussing over these last 4 weeks.  In that spirit, allow me to conclude this series with the words of one of these monks concerning these cells:

“The monk’s cell is that furnace of Babylon in which the three children found the Son of God; but it is also the pillar of cloud, out of which God spoke to Moses.”

Being Alone With God – Alone

The “alone component of wilderness time describes creating a space to be with God.  Many of the images of wilderness time presented in the Bible involve a literal wilderness as such a space:  Elijah was called into the wilderness, as were John the Baptist and Jesus.  However, this is not to the exclusion of other places; David would sit on his bed at night to meditate and Peter sat on a rooftop to pray.  We don’t need to go into a literal wilderness in order to be alone with God.

“Alone” describes a particular way that we are with God.  We can intentionally be with God in a variety of ways with others.  Such instances might include church services, Bible studies, or group prayer.  Being alone with God carries with it a kind of openness and vulnerability with God.  John Chryssavgis, summarizing one of the desert fathers, vividly captures what being alone with God means in the context of the desert:

“Abba Alonius says that, in the presence of God, you face up to yourself in the desert.  In the desert, you discover your true self, without any masks or myths.  There you are forced to come to terms with your self.  Ultimately, you are called to face up to and fight against your demons, without blaming either someone else or your past.”

In a sense, being alone with God takes being with God a step further.  In being with God, we set aside distractions and undividedly attend to God.  In being alone with God we also set aside the “masks or myths” that we hide behind and are ourselves before God.  Elijah’s encounter with God on Mt. Horeb may serve to put more flesh and blood on this idea:

“So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.  And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword.  I alone am left and they seek to take my life.”

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.”  And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks into pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.  So it was when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.  Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  And he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword.  I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”  Then the Lord said to him:  “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria.  Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel.  And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.  It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill.  Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

-1 Kings 19:8-18

After his triumph over the prophets of Baal, Elijah most likely expected Israel to turn back to God.  However, he soon found out that the figureheads of Baal-worship, Ahab the king and his wife, Jezebel, were still very much in charge.  With his life under threat, he flees into the wilderness and asks God to take his life because he has failed.  It is at this time that God calls him to Horeb.

It is on the mountain that Elijah is alone with God and where he confronts himself.  Here, though he covers his face with his mantle; he is figuratively naked before God.  He brings his complaints directly to God rather than hiding them behind a mask of what he thinks he “ought” to do or say.  When we are alone with God, we allow our true self to come out, warts and all.  However, we are not facing our true self on our own.  We must remember that, just like Elijah, we have God by our side.  He will help us as we seek to move past our true self towards our True Self:  past who we currently are towards who God has called us to be in Christ.

God’s answer to Elijah’s complaints may strike us as odd.  Some may expect that He would chastise Elijah while others may expect Him to provide more comfort.  Instead, God tells Elijah what to do in light of the fact that, despite appearances, God is still in control, not Ahab and Jezebel.  Elijah then has a choice:  to continue in despair under his true self or to submit to God’s calling to his True Self.  When we are alone with God, His work on our hearts can take numerous forms based on what we need, but the common denominator will always be a requirement to submit to this work.  Our true selves will resist it because it entails putting off the “old man” in order to put on the “new man” (Ephesians 4:20-24).

When Elijah is alone with God, he faces his true self and ultimately triumphs over it in order to follow God’s call to his True Self as a prophet.  It was by bringing his true self before God that he is able to overcome it.  He was not able to do this on his own as evinced by his despair prior to this episode on Horeb.

Likewise, when we are alone with God, we seek a space where we bring our true selves out before Him and rely on God as the source of our victory over it so that we might be repaired and reshaped, little by little, into our True Selves.

Advent 4 – The Gift 2

Scripture:  Ephesians 2:8-9

The gifts that we give to one another at Christmas sometimes have tiny strings attached to them; expectations to receive something of similar value in return, such as a gift or good will.  Perhaps we seek to use gifts not as expressions of our love, but as replacements for our love.  We use them as a way of getting around the time and emotional investments which are necessary to any relationship.  If the gift of Christ is God giving us Himself, how could we ever hope to measure up to this gift?  What could we possibly offer in return?  Paul’s letter to the Ephesians speaks to this very question:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Our salvation through Christ is a gift in the purest sense.  There is absolutely nothing that we have done to be deserving of it.  As a matter of fact, based only on our works, we deserved punishment rather than salvation.  Our sinful nature carried all of our thoughts and deeds away as captives to serve it.  Fortunately, the gift of God does not depend on us or what we do to earn it.  It is a gift that is freely given with no strings attached.

One might ask, “What about all of those rules and commandments?  Aren’t Christians supposed to obey God?  Isn’t that an exchange:  you obey God so that He will save you from hell?”  That would be true we were able reach God’s standard of holiness through our own efforts.  However, that argument goes at the process backwards.  Instead of us earning our way into God’s love by following His commandments and example in Christ, God loves us and forms us into the image of Christ.  Our role is to accept the gift that He gives us and cooperate with the forming process.  As we are shaped by God, we keep His commands as a result of the change that has taken place within us.  In other words, we do not make ourselves worthy of God.  God does that for us.  The apostle Paul writes the following on the matter:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” -2 Corinthians 3:17-18

As Christians, we are born of God and not of human means.  The apostle John writes the following of Christ:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  who were born not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.” –John 1:12-13

In Christ’s work on the cross, we are given the free gift of becoming children of God, born of God.  Christ opens up the way for us and thus He says to the disciples:

“…I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.” –John 14:6

This mighty work of God, in which He reaches down to lift us up to Himself, reaches fulfillment in Christ whose birth we now celebrate.  Christ’s birth signals the beginning of a new birth for us:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things become new.” -2 Corinthians 5:17

When God gives us Christ, gives us Himself, He gives us more than a get out of hell free card.  He gives us new life here and now.  This is the new life that we are born into as we are transformed into the image of Christ.  We are delivered from God’s wrath in hell, but we are also delivered from the state of living death that we are in as long as we are slaves to sin.  The salvation of God comes in the form of the child born and laid in a manger in Bethlehem so many years ago.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign to you:  you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’”

 -Luke 2:8-14

The question, now, is how will you respond to God this Christmas?