Thursday, September 29, 2016

You were formerly darkness - Ephesians 5:6-10

"Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:6-10)
Paul warns us of those who would try to deceive us with their empty words. The word used here for "deceive" can also be translated "to cheat." God had given to us great and precious promises and has secured for us an inheritance in heaven, an inheritance, "which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you." (1 Peter 1:4) However, there are those who have given themselves to licentiousness and have purposed to preach that which is no gospel and seek to lead us astray from our consistency and faith in Christ. They preach a false gospel of license for sin, claiming grace while they themselves are slaves of the sin they preach. Their teaching take many forms. Some, teaching that what is done in the flesh has no influence on the spirit, not knowing the destruction and death that sin works within us. Other claim grace frees them from all judgment and consequence of sin, as if God willfully turns a blind eye to the sins we commit in the flesh. Furthermore, some claim that participation in sacraments are sufficient to appease God, allowing us to continue in the flesh as long as we regularly also participate in the sacraments. All who teach such teach empty words and seek to cheat us of the promises and inheritance of God. God has not called us to a life of sin, but a life of holiness, righteousness, and truth. The truth is that it is these very things which warrant and bring for the wrath and judgment of God upon the disobedient.

When speaking of the disobedient, there is a clear link between disobedience and disbelief, as if they were two sides of the same coin. However, Paul does not speak of those who struggle to believe in their unbelief, but of those who refuse to believe in their disbelief. This particular Greek word speaks of those who persist in their unbelief even after the truth has come to them. This word come from the root word that means to be unpersuadable. It speaks not of one who has never known, nor of one who has never been properly trained in the faith, but of one who refuses to believe even when they are presented with the truth in the light of Christ. There are those who struggle to believe, like the man who cried out to Jesus, "I do believe; help my unbelief," (Mark 9:24) but there are also those who refuse to believe even in the light of the truth, and it is upon these to whom the wrath of God comes. We must remember the words of Jesus, "If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself." (John 7:17) If we are willing in our faith to obey Christ, then the Kingdom of God will open up to us. However, if we persist in our obstinance and unbelief, then our life will, in the end, be consumed under the wrath and judgment of God.

When we come to faith in Christ, it necessitates not only a new belief but also a new manner of living. While we were in darkness as to who God is, who we are, and who we are in relationship to God, we lived a life separated from God and given over to the impulses and lusts of our flesh. We lived, believed, and moved in darkness. However, now we have come into the light and we are called to put away all the deeds of darkness and to be renewed in our minds and our behavior by the light we now walk in. One cannot claim to be in the light and continue to walk in darkness. Either we are in the light and walk in the light or our continuance to walk in darkness gives proof that our hearts, minds, and soul are still in darkness regardless of what we claim to the contrary.

To walk in light requires a break from the world and culture around us. The world is in darkness and "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one." (1 John 5:19 NKJV) If we pattern ourselves after the world, then we too will find ourselves walking in darkness. We cannot allow ourselves to be trained by the world if we hope to walk in light. To walk in the light we must allow the grace of God to teach us how to walk. The world teaches us how to sin, but grace teaches us how to live. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." (Titus 2:11-13)

Those in the world live to please themselves, but those in the light live to please God. The world has taught us one way to live. Peter refers to the "futile way of life inherited from your forefathers." (1 Peter 1:18) Now it is time to let the Lord teach us how to live those things that are pleasing to Him. We must shed from our lives those works that done in pleasing the world and pleasing ourselves and take unto ourselves those things that please God. This can only be done as we walk in the light and submit to the light and allow the light to teach us how to live in relationship with God. If we will do this then our lives will be filled with light and our works will demonstrate the light that is inside us.

David Robison

Saturday, September 17, 2016

as is proper among saints - Ephesians 5:3-5

"But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." (Ephesians 5:3-5)
Paul speaks of what is, or rather is not, proper among the saints. This Greek word for "proper" can also be translated as "befitting" and means to be conspicuous or to stand out. Paul is asking us to consider how others see us and to identify those characteristics that define our lives before men; is it a life lived in righteousness and holiness or is it a life steeped in the same sin and depravity as we see in the world around us today? If we have a claim to be saints of God and if we profess that Christ has forgiven us and set us free from the bondage of sin, then ought not our lives be a conspicuous show of the truth and fruit of what we confess? If we claim to be born again then should we not show forth a newness of life that wasn't present within us before our rebirth? Paul is calling us to consider that there are those things that are befitting of a born again child of God and there are those things that are befitting of those who have yet to find freedom from sin in Christ. Therefore, if we have become saints of God then we ought to live as such in holiness, righteousness, and all purity.

To this end, Paul focuses on three thing regarding our behavior and three things relating to our manner of speech. Paul says that we must lay aside all immorality, impurity, and greed. The Greek word for "immorality" is the same word from which we get our English word for "pornography." This word refers not only to fornication but to all forms of sexual impurity, license, and perversion. This includes not only the actual participation in illicit sex but also participation in pornography and other forms of sexual impurity. In Paul's day, sexual sin was just as rampant, if not more so, than it is in our world today. Paul warns believers not to bring their old sexual practices with them into the Kingdom of God but rather to learn a new way of living and to return to purity when it comes to the issue of sex. In speaking of impurity, Paul is making a reference to the old Jewish law that classified things as either clean or unclean. The Jewish law taught the Jews to live a life of purity, shunning those things that were unclean and cleaving to those things that were clean. As saints of God, we are called to live a life of purity; to put aside all mixture in our lives, to not grasp for what is clean while we still try and hold onto what is unclean. Our lives should not be a mixture of light and darkness, or good and evil, or clean and unclean but rather a life that is singularly consistent with our confession.

Paul also references our manner of speaking when he says that we should lay aside all filthy talk, silly talk, and course jesting. It is interesting that the three Greek words used here are only use in this passage of scripture. Filthiness refers to all shameful and/or obscene talk, including filthy stories and obscene jokes. The phrase "silly talk" can also be translated "foolish" or "vain" and it means to talk like a fool. Solomon had a lot to say about the speaking of a fool: "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions." (Proverbs 18:2 NIV) "A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back." (Proverbs 29:11 NKJV) As believers it is fitting for us to use discretion and understanding in our speech, not simply blurting out everything that come into our mind. The Greek word for "jesting" means "easily turned" and refers to a quick wit and an ever ready repartee. Wit and good humor are pleasant among friends but it can be taken to an extreme where it descends into base, course, and obscene banter that can wound, hurt, and offend the hearers. Paul's remedy for these things is that, in laying aside these things, we instead take up the practice of giving thanks; to lay aside old manners of speaking and put on a new manner that is characterized by gratitude and thankfulness.

Paul warns us that, for those who fail to lay aside the old life, a life characterized by impurity, immorality, greed, and idolatry, that they will have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God and of Christ. It is interesting that Paul speaks of having no inheritance and one could read into this that such a one may yet still be saved, but will suffer lost of inheritance upon entering into eternal life. Peter speaks of that inheritance that awaits us in heaven, "to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you," (1 Peter 1:4) and Paul speaks of those who, while yet obtaining salvation, still suffer loss in their salvation, "each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." (1 Corinthians 3:13-15) Either way, we must understand that the life we live here on the Earth had a direct influence on the life we will inherit in the age to come. Let us therefore choose to live a life different from the prevailing wind of our culture and those around us so that in the life to come we may also live a life that is different from that which once was our destiny and the reward of our sin.

David Robison

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Be imitators of God - Ephesians 5:1-2

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." (Ephesians 5:1-2)
The Greek word for "imitate" means to "mimic" or to be a "mime." In ancient Greek it was used to reference an actor who mimicked the movements and behaviors of someone, often to the point of extremes and for the purpose of humor through mocking. We are called to mimic God in our behavior, actions, and speech. We are to be, as it were, mimes imitating God so others can see what He is like, so they can understand His nature, and so they can comprehend His love and disposition towards them, but how can we mimic and imitate one who is invisible; one whom we cannot see, hear, or touch?

Paul encourages us to imitate God as children imitate their parents. This implies more than simple duty. It implies an imitation that is motivated by a desire to copy the habits and ways as one we we view with esteem and wonder. However, in our case, this requires that we first come to know God as our Father, especially when our earthly fathers did not demonstrate to us much that was worthy of being imitated. To know God as our Father, we need to learn from Jesus. Jesus came to reveal the Father to us. Jesus said, "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." (Matthew 11:27) In fact, Jesus went so far as to say to His disciples, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?" (John 14:9) We must learn what Jesus has to teach us of the Father, especially that which He taught by His actions and deeds. It is only in right relationship with Jesus that we can receive the revelation of our invisible Father in heaven.

Paul also tells us we should imitate the Father just as Jesus also did. This means not only learning from Jesus but we must also learn of Jesus. Jesus said of Himself, "And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him." (John 8:29) Jesus, as a Son and fellow brother to God with us, was always doing, in imitation of our Father, the things that were pleasing to Him. When we learn of Christ, of His charter, nature, and behavior, then we learn the things we ought to imitate to please the Father. In other words, if we imitate Jesus whom we can see (in the recorded account of His life) then we will also be imitating our Father in heaven whom we cannot see. Jesus not only left His teaching behind, He left a pattern of living that was righteous and well pleasing in God's site, We ought to search out these things in the scriptures and do in our lives the very things Jesus did in His.

Finally, Paul says we ought to live lives of love and sacrifice towards others. This is what Jesus did for others and what our Father did for us. John tells us that, speaking of our Father, that He "is love." (1 John 4:8) More than being lovable and loving, God is love; His every thought, intent, and action towards us is characterized and motivated by love. When we express love to those around us we are imitating our Father who is love itself. More than that, not only did Jesus sacrifice for us, but so did the Father. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." (John 3:16-17) Our Father sacrificed His Son for our sake. He gave to us something very precious that we might know His love for us and be freed, in the sacrifice of Jesus, to love Him in return and to be reconciled back to Him in love. Every time we place our needs and wants before those of others, we are imitating our Father in His love and sacrifice towards us. Jesus told us, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) Most of the time, this laying down of our lives, does not involve voluntary death, but is found in small and simple ways where we consider the needs and interests of others above and before ourselves. When we love in this way then we have truly learned to imitate our Father.

David Robison

Friday, September 09, 2016

Do not grieve - Ephesians 4:30-32

"Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." (Ephesians 4:30-32)
Paul refers to the Holy Spirit, not as some impersonal force such as the wind, nor as simply some sort of cosmic energy, but as a person who is able of being touched in their emotions; capable of being grieved and, correspondingly, capable of being moved to rejoicing and delight. The Holy Spirit is just as much a person as the Father and the Son are. He feels, He speaks, and He delights in relating to us on a daily basis. While Jesus has ascended into heaven, He has sent forth His Holy Spirit to dwell within us here on this heart. Jesus, speaking of His departure from this Earth, said, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you." (John 14:16-17) Paul counsels us to be aware that we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us and to recognize that He sees, hears, and feels all that we see, hear, and feel. The Holy Spirit feels deeply the results of our actions and words and is easily grieved by our sin and recklessness just as much as He is able to be delighted by our righteousness and kindness towards others.

It is interesting that Paul did not say that we should not anger the Holy Spirit but that we should not grieve the Holy Spirit. Clement of Alexandria, speaks of the rich and their need to have someone in their life who can reprove them and help them to walk a godly walk. He says to the rich, "Fear this man when angry; be pained at his groaning; and reverence him when making his anger to cease; and anticipate him when he is deprecating punishment. Let him pass many sleepless nights for thee, interceding for thee with God, influencing the Father with the magic of familiar litanies. For He does not hold out against His children when they beg His pity. And for you he will pray purely, held in high honour as an angel of God, and grieved not by you, but for you. This is sincere repentance." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 41) So is the ministry of the Holy Spirit within us. He grieves for us, not because of us. He is not grieved because we, once again, have sinned, but He is grieved because of the pain and hurt our sin causes us and those around us. He is grieved, not because He is indignant at our sin, but because He know we no longer have to sin and that Jesus has paved the way for us to live a new life; a life full of blessing and joy rather than a life filed with sin, hurt, and pain. He grieves for what our lives could be, not for what they are.

So what are the things that grieve the Holy Spirit? They are the things that bring hurt to us and those around us. Specifically, Paul mentions those relational sins that drive wedges in our relationships and that build walls of separation around us. Things like anger, bitterness, loose talk, and every sort of malice towards others. These things bring sadness to the Holy Spirit because of the pain they bring others. Paul's remedy for the grieving of the Holy Spirit is to put off these things and to put on a new life; to begin to life characterized by love for those around us. Instead of malice, kindness; instead of anger, forgiveness; instead of bitterness, tender-heartedness. With these things the Holy Spirit is delighted and rejoices in the demonstration of the love of God we show towards one another.

David Robison

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Therefore, laying aside - Ephesians 4:25-29

"Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." (Ephesians 4:25-29)
To make his message of putting of and putting on more clear, Paul gives us several concrete examples of how this can work in our lives. Along with the what of putting off and putting on, Paul also, as a bonus, gives us the why of putting off and putting on. For many, Christianity can become a system of dos and don'ts; a series of rules the follow without ever really understanding the "why" of the rules they are following. Understanding the why is critical to our understanding of the life we have been called to live. I have found this especially true in raising children. When our children were young, our rules were absolute and we expected them to follow them because, "I said so," but as they grew up, it became important for us to explain to them why we had the rules we had. If we only know the rules then we will only ever be able to keep those rules in the context we learned them. However, if we understand the "why" of the rules then we can apply the "why" to other situations not directly covered by the rules. Understanding the "why" helps us to transition from a life lived by rules to a life lived by principles.

Paul gives us four concrete examples of laying off, putting on, and the reasons for laying off and putting on. The first has to do, not only with lying, but with any and all forms of falsehood in our lives. Paul's command covers our words, our actions, and our intentions. God's remedy for falsehood in our lives is to speak the truth to one another. It is interesting that Paul explicitly mentions our neighbor. In the Greek this references someone near, or close, to us. We must first learn to practice truth with those closest to us; speaking what is true and speaking what is right. The reason we are to speak truth, one with another, is because we are all members of one another. This word for "members" can refer to a limb or body part. When we lie to one another, we are harming that which we are a part of. Lying destroys the bonds of relationship that binds us together as one body of mankind. Lying has the power to destroy friendships, marriages, and any since of community we have with our neighbor. In Christ we are one in Him, but also in this world we are one body of mankind before God. Lying destroys this body and separates us one from another. That is why we mist put off lying and put on the truth that we might preserve the unity of our relationships with one another.

Secondly, Paul says that, though we are angered, we must not sin. Anger is a natural emotion common to all of us, but it is what we do with this anger that determines if we slide into sin or remain in righteousness. The key to overcoming anger is learning to properly resolve it and to release it before it consumes our life. Those who hold onto anger harbor a fire within them that consumes them, and most often, the relationships they have with other people. Paul's advice is to resolve our anger the very day we are angered; to not let the day end before we resolve and release the anger we are holding inside. One of the worse things you can do for your marriage is to go to bed angry. As you sleep, that anger burns and grows and, as the new day dawns, that anger continues to work against your marriage with ever growing heat. We must learn to work though our anger; to resolve it quickly, and to restore peace and harmony within our relationships with ever growing efficiency and speed. The reason we must be quick to resolve anger is because, if we do not, we yield a place in our heart to the enemy to work corruption and evil will within us. Giving place is like giving the enemy and landing strip in our lives where he can come and go at will. This is what unresolved anger does in our lives. When the enemy has place in our lives, nothing good comes of it. Let us deny him place by resolving our anger quickly and not holding on to it any longer than we need to.

Thirdly, those who are given to thievery must put off stealing and learn to work with their own hands to earn their own living. More than this, they ought to learn to become givers rather than takers. When we are takers, we think only of ourselves; what we need and what we want. We become so self-focused that we loose sight of other people. Stealing is a prime example of self-centeredness. We become so consumed with our wants and desires that we become callous to thee needs, wants, and rights of others. The key to transitioning from self-centeredness to other-centeredness is learning to give. Our goal in working must not be to only provide for our own needs, but to earn and live in a way to have extra to give to those in need. This not only means working hard to have the resources to give, but living a moderate lifestyle that we might have something left over to give to those in need. One of the reasons to become people who give is to establish equity one with another. There will always be those in need, and sometimes that person will be us. God has established giving as a way to ensure equity for all. Paul wrote, "For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality —  at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.'" (2 Corinthians 8:13-15) Giving ensures equity, taking only leads to our own want.

Finally, we must be careful in what we say and must choose our words wisely in order that we might build others up instead of tearing them down. We are told that, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit." (Proverbs 18:21) There is no such thing as an empty word. What we speak has power; power to give life and power to produce death in those to whom are words are directed. We must learn to speak with purpose. This means that we must think before we speak. We must consider not only what we are going to say but what effect those words will have on the person we are speaking to. Will our words bring life or will our words bring death and harm to those we are conversing with? The answer is up to us. James counsels us to be, "quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger." (James 1:19) The goal of our speech ought to be two-fold. First to encourage and build up one another and, secondly, to enable and produce grace in our hearer to allow them to respond in a positive way to what we are saying. This is especially true when there are issues in a relationship that mus be addressed and/or conflicts that must be resolved. Our words can either impart grace that allows the other person to respond in a positive way, or we can speak in a way to put them on the defense and actually make it harder for them to hear and respond to what we have to say. We must take the time to ask ourselves, "How would I respond to the words I am about to say? Will my words communicate grace or something else? Would my words help the matter or just make it worse?" Our goal should be the edification and empowering by grace of the other person, not just our own satisfaction in releasing our emotions,expressing our anger, or simply "blowing off steam." We must always remember the words of Jesus, "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37)

David Robison

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Put on the new self - Ephesians 4:22-24

"that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth." (Ephesians 4:22-24)
After hearing and learning of Christ we are brought to the point of choosing. Any learning that is of any real importance in our lives is always a learning that leads us to a decision. It is leaning that convicts the mind and illuminates our soul of possibilities previously unimagined or for which we felt hopeless to obtain. Knowledge informs but learning inspires, prompts, and directs us to choose a new and higher way of living. Those who have learned and heard of Christ have passed beyond just knowing about Him to wanting to be like Him.

This learning of Christ leads us to consider how we shall become like Him and how we shall fully attain to the life He has called us to live. For this, three things are required. The first step is to lay aside our former manner of life. Having done so, and now looking back, it seems strange that so often we seek to save our old way of life even after coming to Christ for, in reality, it was not much of a life worth retaining. Paul tells us that our old way of living is a life of corruption. Our submission to our flesh with its lusts and deceit works within our lives corruption. This Greek word means to spoil or wear away. It is the root of the Greek word that describes a body decaying in the ground. Our old life is nothing but a decaying corps for which little remains but for it to be buried. Paul says that we must "lay aside" our former life. In our sanctification before God, there is that which He does and there is that which we must do. God has made us able to break free from our former patterns of living, but it is still up to us to choose to do so. We must take the initiative and we must decide to be done with our former ways and to lay them aside that we might adopt a new way of living; that we may learn a new conversation of  life.

Secondly, Paul says that we must be renewed in the spirit of our mind. This is the only place where Paul speaks of the "spirit of our mind." In doing so, I do not believe that He is speaking of some actual spirit but in the disposition or working of our mind. While this Greek word does mean "spirit" if can also mean "breath" or any "current of air." It refers to an active force of life; to a moving, breathing, and possessing nature. When we come to Christ we are accustom to our way of thinking. We see ourselves and the world around us as we have been conditioned to through our learning and exposure to life. However, often our way of thinking is different from God's way of thinking. We think as earth bound creatures who have spent a life time apart from God. Now that we have been brought into union with Him and given a life from above, it is time to shed our human way of thinking for God's way of thinking. Such a change in mind can be transformative in our lives. Paul calls us to "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2) In saying this it is important to note that Paul speaks of a transformation in our minds, not our emotions. It seems today that most people are concerned with feeling right instead of thinking right. However, the life that God is calling us to is a life of transforming the rational part of our minds; to learn to think, reason, and understand according to the true rational nature of God rather than according to the deceit perpetuated upon us by our flesh and lusts.

Finally, Paul tells us to put on our new self. God has created for us a new life that has been created in His image; according to His righteousness and holiness of the truth. It is interesting that, in this, God has given us a choice. God did not recreate us in righteousness and holiness, but rather He has created for us a new life that is in accordance with His image and now He invites us to put it on, or as the Greek implies, to cloth ourselves with this new life. In another place Paul writes, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13) Our life with God is a partnership with God. God is working within us to produce the will and desire for good, but it is us who must act upon this grace to actually accomplish those things which God is enabling us to do. For our participation in this new life we are wholly dependent upon the grace of God, yet the grace of God is not enough to ensure our actual apprehension of this new life. We ourselves must act upon this grace to put off the old and to put on the new. It is also important to understand the necessity of putting on once we have put off. Many people try to reform their lives by simply putting off some bad habit or behavior, only to once again find themselves falling back into that old habit or a new habit that is worse than the first. Jesus spoke of those who had daemons cast out, saying that after they had been cast out they return to find, "it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first." (Luke 11:25-26) If we simply put off an old behavior without replacing it with a new behavior then we are destined to fail and to fall back into our old sinful habits. It is only when we replace the old man with the new man that we can walk in and sustain ourselves in our new life in Christ. Putting off, changing the way we think, and putting on are the keys to growing and living in our new life in Christ.

David Robison

Friday, September 02, 2016

If you have heard Him - Ephesians 4:20-21

"But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus." (Ephesians 4:20-21)
In speaking of learning Christ "in this way," Paul is not speaking of "how" we learned something, but how our learning has effected and directed our lives. Those who learned from the "futile way of life inherited from your forefathers" (1 Peter 1:18) wrought withing themselves a life that was futile and empty. Those who learned life by submitting to their own lusts and greed, learned in a way to produce a life of corruption and death within themselves. Much of what we have learned in life has not lead us to a life of holiness, piety, and righteousness but rather to a life of sin and death. However, those who have truly learned of Christ have learned from Him in a way that leads to a life that is growing in ever closer conformity to His likeness and image. The proof of our learning is not found in the learning itself but in "the way" that it produces within us.

For most of us, before we come to the learning of Christ, we must first pass though the learning of the Father. Jesus said, "It is written in the prophets, 'and they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." (John 6:45) Part of our hearing and learning from the Father is our hearing and learning from the Law. Paul says, "But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:23-24) The law was given, among other purposes, to show us our inability to conform to the ways of God. It was to show us that, no matter how good and holy the law was, our sinful nature kept us from its obedience and robbed us of its promised benefits. While the law is good and holy and promises life to anyone who will keep it, we are sinners and stumble at each jot and tittle of its holy commands. The law testifies against us that we are sinners and that we need a savior. It shows us our need for Christ.

Having passed through the hearing and learning of the law, we come to the hearing and learning of Christ. The learning of Christ is different from the learning of the law. The learning of Christ removes burdens and lightens our load. It illuminates us to find and live the life that we were created to live. It sets right our lives and gives us life abundantly. Jesus said of our relationship with Him, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30) The learning of the law sought to bring conformity from without us, but the learning of Christ changes us on the inside. It changes and conforms us by first changing our hearts and renewing our minds. This is what was promised through the prophet Jeremiah, "'But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,' declares the Lord, 'I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,' declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 31:33-34) This inward change is like leaven as it works in our lives until we are thoroughly and completely changed into His image.

However, the learning of Christ is more than understanding and knowledge. The Hebrew understanding of learning includes the actuation of what was learned. It is not enough to learn Christ, but we must then put that learning into practice for it to have any affect on our lives. Jesus said, "Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great." (Luke 6:47-49 NKJV) Our foundation in Christ is not found in what we know but what we do. It was those who acted on what they knew who built a strong foundation. It's not enough to be taught by Christ but we must put what we are taught into practice. It is only when we do what we have been taught that we have really learned anything. Jesus said, "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:13) Notice He says, "go and learn," not "study and learn." We can never truly come to learning until we actually attempt to do what we have learned.

David Robison

Sunday, August 28, 2016

That you walk no longer - Ephesians 4:17-19

"So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness." (Ephesians 4:17-19)
Most often, when we read the word "Gentile" in the scriptures, we think of non-Jews. However, here Paul is not writing to Jews but to a Gentile people warning then to not walk as the Gentiles do. In this verse, the word "Gentile" may more appropriately be understood as "nations", "heathens", or "other tribes". Here, Paul is not speaking of non-Jews but all peoples who live outside of the commonwealth of Christ. When we come to Christ, we are made part of a new nation; we are joined to a new people. We no longer maintain our old allegiances and the culture of who we once were but are now joined with other believers as a new nation and a new people having a new culture that is distinctively their own. Peter tells us that we are, "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for  God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Paul exhorts us to make a break with our former lives, to lay aside our former manor of living, and to adopt a new lifestyle, one that is befitting of the kingdom into which we have been saved. We are no longer to walk as the rest of the nations do but rather to walk as people of God, as citizens of a heavenly kingdom. The life of the nations is characterized by futility and darkness. Futility, or vanity, represents the emptiness and worthlessness of our lives spent in worldly pursuits. Much of our lives are consumed with the pursuit of the temporary, those things that have no lasting value. We live our lives for the moment, living only for this life and ignoring the live yet to come. In the end, we are left with nothing and, when this world comes to an end, so will all we have worked so hard to obtain. Peter reminds us that, "If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." (1 Peter 1:17-19) Christ came to save us so that we might no longer walk as we used to, that we might lay aside the futile way of living that has been passed down from generation to generation. In living the Christian life, we cannot depend on the patterns and customs we received for our fathers but must learn a new way of living from Christ.

Similarly, we must come out of darkness and into light if we are to live our new life in Christ. The term "darkness" can also be translated as "blindness". However, this is not physical blindness but blindness in our understanding. If we are to come out of darkness we must first admit we are blind and then seek the true light to fill our understanding. Jesus said, "The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matthew 6:22-23) There is no darkness greater than the darkness one believes to be light. As long as we claim light, and yet that light be really darkness, we will continue to walk and stumble in our darkness. It is only when we confess our darkness and turn to Jesus for true light that our blindness will be turned into seeing and our understanding will be flooded with light. Paul writes, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God... For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:3-6) It is only in turning to Jesus that our darkness can be turned into light.

When we live in futility and darkness, we become estranged from Christ and from His kingdom of love and power. This estrangement progresses in degrees. First it starts with ignorance; ignorance of God, ignorance of who we are, and ignorance of who we are called to be. In our ignorance, we turn to those things that do not profit us; living a life of futility and empty pursuits. We readily adopt the ways of our fathers without even understanding that there is a better way to live. We live in old patterns not knowing that Jesus has made a way for us to live in newness of life. As ignorance grows, we become hard in heart. This word for "hard" can also mean "stupidity" or "blind" of heart. We no longer care for each other or for the needs and wants for our fellow man. We becomes consumed with our own wants and desires and begin to pursue a self-centered life. In the end, our hardness of heart turns our love cold, both our love for God and our love for one another. Jesus warned us that, "because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold." (Matthew 24:12 NKJV) As our cold heart shuts our our cares for everyone other than ourselves, we become callous towards God and others. This word for "callous" can also be translated "past feeling" or, literally, to "grieve out."  Our consciences being seared, we find little or no restraint left to keep us from our sinful and destructive ways. We throw our lives fully into every form of pleasure, fulfilling every lust and given over to greed and avarice. In the end, we are left with nothing but death inside us. It is time to break free of this empty life. It is time to find a new way of living. It is time to come to Christ that He might teach us how to truly live; that we might find the truth of what he said, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10 NKJV)

David Robison

Saturday, August 27, 2016

We are to grow up - Ephesians 4:15-16

"but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." (Ephesians 4:15-16)
The idea of speaking the truth in love goes far beyond just our words and how we speak to each other, it includes our whole manor of life; how we conduct ourselves in the truth and in love. It is a speaking that is done, not only with words, but with deeds and actions. It is a speaking that encompasses the whole conversation of our lives. Others have translated this verse as, "holding the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15 Darby) "being true in love" (Ephesians 4:15 YLT) "But doing the truth in charity" (Ephesians 4:15 Douay-Rheims) Our words are of little consequence if our deeds do not reflect the truth we confess.

Paul conflates the ideas of truth and love, showing them to be inseparably linked together. Truth without love degrades into legalism where we use the truth as a weapon to divide and condemn others. Love without truth is easily perverted into self serving emotions and the continual pursuit of self-love. Paul writes of the knowledge of the truth saying, "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies." (1 Corinthians 8:1) Knowledge is good but without love it lacks direction and purpose. Truth is only valuable when we are able to express it and speak it to one another in love. Similarly, Paul writes of the importance of loving according to knowledge, "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ." (Philippians 1:9-10) By truth we learn to love what is truly lovely and to abstain from what is base and corrupt. By truth we learn what love really is and that truth becomes a judge of our own thoughts, emotions, and intents; showing if they are truly according to love or by the deception of what the world calls love. It is by holding both of these, in equal portions, in our hearts that we find grace form God. As John said, "Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love." (2 John 3)

Paul also shows us that there are two fundamental aspects of our relationship with Christ; one being our individual relationship with Him and the other our corporate relationship with Him through the body. Our personal growth in Christ is our responsibility. It is not our parents, it's not our pastors, and it's not the church's responsibility to grow us up. Certainly God has given others within the Body of Christ to help us in this journey, but the final result is up to us. Speaking of the judgment at the end of the age, Jesus said, "I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'" (Matthew 25:43-45) Notice He did not say, "Your church did not visit me" but rather, "you did not visit me." In the end, we alone will be called into account for what we did and did not do with the truth and love we've received from Christ. Did we use it to learn and grow in Christ or were we like the unfaithful servant who, "dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money." (Matthew 25:18) We are the ones who are responsible for our growth and the ones who should be diligent to put into practice the truth God has taught us through love.

The second aspect of our relationship with Christ is found in our relationship with His body. There are three key aspects to this relationship. First, we must always remember that it is Christ who is the head of His body and it is from Him that all things flow to her. The body is the body only to the extent that each individual member has a relationship with the head and comes under the lordship of the head. There are many good social and community groups that exist today but only the church has Jesus as its head. It is in our common fellowship with Jesus that we are drawn together as a body. We must always remember Paul's words, "Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God." (Colossians 2:18-19) The body is only the body when it holds fast to the head.

Secondly, the body is more than a collection of people, it is a connected group of people who have been brought together in Christ to represent Him to the world. The phrase, "fitted and held together" implies that the individual parts are driven together and form a compact unison of believers. A group of people attending a Sunday service together are not necessarily the Body of Christ. The Body has cohesion and connections with each other that hold us together as one. Furthermore, these connections are defined though the relationships we have with each other. A joint is the place where to parts meet and cooperate in common purpose for the movement and functioning of the body as a whole. You may not be connected to everyone within the Body of Christ but you must be connected to someone to be an effective member of the Body. These relationships become effective when each member if functioning properly towards each other member. We all have a part to play and it is only when we all do our part, serving one another with the gifts and graces God has given us, that the body is made whole and grows up in Christ.

Finally, the Body is to build itself up in love. There is that which God does in bringing us together and uniting us as one in Him, but there is that which we ourselves must do in growing up the Body of Christ. Without the participation of the Body in the work of Christ, the Body will not grow and will remain forever an infant, or worse, a scatters array of body parts. Through love we must all seek the growth and health of the Body, supplying to each other what God has given us. Many people are accustom to complaining about the state of their church and blaming others for its condition, but it is our responsibility to work together for the good of the body. It is only when we combine truth and love that the body will grow up into the fullness of Him who has called us together as one body.

David Robison

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tossed here and there - Ephesians 4:14

"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4:14)
One of the hallmarks of maturity is stability. The full-grown man and woman of Christ is one who is not quickly shaken, not given to every impulse or new idea, one who maintains a straight path in their walk with the Lord. Children follow their whims are are easily lead astray from what they ought to do, but adults live by principal, reason, and accumulated wisdom; ignoring the fanciful thoughts and suggestions of others that they might live a life that is true, upright, and worthy of their calling in Christ.

The picture Paul paints for us is of a ship drifting upon the ocean, tossed by the waves and blown about by the wind; not given to any real direction or steerage by the pilot, but being left to the capriciousness of the wind and waves. Such a person may feel safe in their boat, but their final destination is no longer up to them as they are driven by forces external to themselves, driven to destinations unknown and undesirable. This is no way to live a Christian life.

In describing the forces that seek to drive us from our stated destination, Paul lists three prime actors. First is the "every wind of doctrine." Paul speaks of the Athenians saying, "Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new." (Acts 17:21) Some, not content with what they have or know, are always looking for something new; some new revelation, some new and exciting teaching, some new ministry that is promising new freedom in Christ. Such people are like those who chase the wind; always searching and never finding. The problem with chasing the wind is that we never arrive at a firm foundation upon which to build our lives. Furthermore, we never establish the sure faith of God in our hearts and minds that would allow us to judge and discern each new wind of doctrine as to whether it be from God or from men. Jesus told us that the best defense against the winds of this world is a sure foundation. "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock." (Matthew 7:24-25) We should give our priority to that which is true rather than that which is new.

The second actor seeing to derail us from our consistency in Christ is the "trickery of men." This Greek word had at its root the word for dice and can imply gambling or trickery. It is like the common shell game where a ball is hidden under one of three cups. Then the cups are moved around and the passer by is asked to pick which cup the ball is under. However, the gamed is rigged and the guesser always looses. Peter writes of such men, "For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved." (2 Peter 2:18-19) The secret to any good trick is misdirection. Having the audience look in one direction while the truth of the trick is performed in another direction. Peter writes of those who promise people freedom, yet if you looked closely at their own life you would see that they themselves are also"salves of corruption." A mature man or woman looks not only to the doctrine someone brings but to the fruit that doctrine has born in their lives, for it is by their fruit that we will know them.

Third is the "deceitful scheming" of men. Darby translates this as, "in unprincipled cunning with a view to systematized error." (Ephesians 4:14 Darby) There are two ideas that Paul brings forth here. First is the idea that these are "cunning" men. This Greek word can be translated as "adroitness" and means to be cleaver and skillful, especially with one's hands and words. Here Paul is not speaking of the garden variety heretic or some simple charlatan. These are men who appear wise, confident, and certain of their beliefs. They are skilled orators and command attention when they speak. They have a natural ability to convince and win over their opponents with their words. The appear polish, professional, and learned. They draw people through their personal magnetism and the show they perform as they spew their own brand of heresy. Many are they who are drawn in by such a show.

The second idea is that of a "systematized error" or "deceitful scheming". The Greek word translated here as "systematized" and "scheming" is the same word from which we get our word for "method" and the Greek word for "error" and "deceiving" means to be lead astray. These teachers have built up a complete theology, but not one that leads to Christ but one that leads to destruction. They have their methods, they have their systematic theology, but they do not have life. This is why sound doctrine is so important. Life is a long journey and requires accurate navigation to make it safely home. Even the smallest of deviations can, over a long period of time, lead us to where we do not want to go. The problem with systematized error is that it is made up of many small deviations from the truth; none of which in their own right appear to be too erroneous or too harmful in the immediate, but when taken together and lived over a life time they will bring us to a place of loss. One small error may not seem too bad, but its compounding effect on our life can be disastrous. This is why we must be sure of our foundation and sure of what we build upon that foundation. Paul writes, "Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work." (1 Corinthians 3:12-13) We must be careful not to build our lives upon the latest method or teaching of men, but upon what we know to bee true; building with gold and silver not wood, hay, and stubble.

David Robison