Devotions – Ephesians 1:3-14

How are you?

We often reply “Good”, but that doesn’t even begin to describe it! I am in Christ, therefore I am rich, for I possess every spiritual blessing. I am chosen by God to be holy and blameless. I am covered in grace. I am redeemed. I am forgiven. My future is secure as I have an eternal inheritance which is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.

So, how am I? I am doing quite well, thank you!

The gospel of salvation announces to us: God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love for us, even when we were dead in our sin, made us alive in Christ (by grace we are saved!). It’s all God’s grace – pure gift and not a result of our works. To be in Christ is simply to hear the message of truth, the gospel of salvation, as God’s promise of forgiveness for us, and to believe. 

The One Note of the Law

“When a tone-deaf person sings, it can be painful to hear. But if you have to listen to theologians who know only the one note of the law, it is not only painful but deadly.” Steven Paulson, Luther for Armchair Theologians

The law is simply everything we aOne Notere supposed to do. In the Bible, the law is good. The law is very good at what it does, which is accuse us before a holy God. Because of the law, we know when we step outside of God’s will. Because of the law, we stand condemned as law-breakers.

Good preachers preach the law to afflict people with their failure to keep the law. But if a preacher only knows the one note of the law, they keep preaching the law, even to those already broken by their sin. This serves only to weigh down people with burdens they cannot bear.

Good preachers preach a second note, a greater note, of gospel to those crushed by the law. The gospel announces to those who cannot bear the burden of their sin that Jesus Christ has already carried their burden on His own body to the cross. At the cross, their sin was nailed to the cross. Jesus declared, “It is finished!” putting an end to our sin bearing.

Few preachers would see themselves as preaching only the one note of the law. Most preachers see themselves as gospel centered in all they do. But if the law is simply everything we are supposed to do, consider: How much of the sermons you hear encourage, call, or exhorts you to do something?

The sermon may not be on the Ten Commandments or even the Old Testament, but if its major note leaves you challenged to do something, you might have a one note preacher. One note preachers may talk about the gospel, but their note of emphasis will be on what you should do in light of the gospel. In other words, on the law.

The problem with the one note of the law: while the law does a great job exposing our sin, it’s a complete failure in making us right with God. A steady diet of one note law will leave you burdened by your failure to keep the law. Only the second note of gospel, of God’s work for you, gives life, sustains faith, and leads to new life.

What Good Works Are Good For

Work Sign

In his letter to Titus, Paul emphasizes the importance of good works.

He tells Titus “to be a model of good works”.

Those God redeems are to be “zealous for good works.”

And we are “to be ready for every good work.”

Those who believe in God are “to devote themselves to good works.

At the same time Paul makes clear that though good works are important, they are not good for everything. One thing in particular they are not good for: saving ourselves.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:4-6).

So we are to be diligent in doing good works, but good works do not save us. So why do good works? Some would say …

to prove we are really saved, or

to show our appreciation to God, or

to keep in God’s favor

If these are your reasons for good works, you may find yourself quickly turning the good news of what Jesus did for you into the not-so-good news that a relationship with God depends on your works. People on this road find an ever increasing burden of wondering: If good works prove I’m saved, how many are enough to feel good about me and God? I’ve tried to show appreciation to God, but I’m sure I could have show more. I need to read the Bible so I’ll have a good day …

Stop. Return to the good news: God our Savior saved you not because of your works, but because of his work for you. When Jesus said, “It is finished” He announced the end to the futile attempt to work for God’s favor.

So why do good works? Paul states it most clearly at the end of his letter where he says,

“And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14).

We do good works for our neighbor. God is fully satisfied with the work of Jesus on our behalf. He does not need our good works, but our neighbor does. God uses our good works performed through our vocations to provide daily bread for us and our neighbor.

Think of it this way: the grace of God comes down to us (vertically) and as we believe that grace is poured out through us (horizontally) to our neighbor. The vertical is all God. The horizontal is God working through us to our neighbor. The vertical is a one way street – grace flows down. Our good works never flow up.

In answer to the question, “How many good works are enough to prove I’m saved?” I would answer “One: Jesus’ work for you is sufficient. Now go, free from the burden of earning God’s favor, and love your neighbor.”

Interpreting the Gospel

My biased attempt to represent various theologies in how I believe they understand one phrase taken from Romans 5:10:

“… we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son …” 

Catholic: “… we were reconciled to God [given a clean slate, a do over] by the death of his Son …”

Calvinist: “… we [the elect] were reconciled to God by the death of his Son …”

Evangelical: “… we were reconciled to God [if we place our trust in Christ] by the death of his Son …”

Baptist: “… we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son [the moment we bowed our heads/prayed the prayer/raised our hand/walked the aisle/threw our stick in the fire] …

Lutheran: “… we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son …”

Your biased views are welcomed in the comments.

No Performance Zone

I usually skip over the Facebook posts of quotes on pictures because … well I just do. This one caught my attention because of my friend’s note at the top:

Evans Quote on Serving

“No performance zone …” 

If only that were true! I read this quote and all I hear is performance.

“God doesn’t want you serving Him only because you are supposed to”

So you are supposed to serve (perform) because you are supposed to, it’s just not the only reason you are to serve. That’s a bullseye in the performance zone.

“He wants you serving Him because you love Him.”

So in addition to serving (performing) because you’re supposed to, you’re also supposed to serve (perform) because you love Him. Double bullseye in the performance zone.

It’s this kind of teaching that leaves people exhausted and broken. When you look within and find a lack of love for God, what is there to do? You do more and try harder. Read more Bible, pray more, confess more, repent more, praise more … and hopefully you’ll feel more love for God so you will serve Him more. Or you give up.

So many gospel believing friends are trapped in the “performance zone.” You know Jesus died for your sins. You know you can’t earn your salvation. It’s all grace. So why isn’t that enough? Why the constant call for more and more with right motives?

When Jesus said “It is finished” he didn’t mean “I finished the first part, now I need you to get off the couch and serve Me and make sure you serve Me out of love.” He meant it is finished. All of it.

Listen, God doesn’t need your service! He’s got this. Jesus entered the performance zone and performed perfectly, for you. Jesus takes all your failure to serve God and all your failure to serve God out of love on Himself. At the cross Jesus died and with Him died all our failed efforts to serve God. And Jesus rose and declares us forgiven.

This is good news, liberating, freeing, joy-filled good news: it is finished! Rather than analyzing motives for serving Christ, simply rest in Christ’s finished performance for you.

And before you google “how to rest in God” and find an article telling you the “Ten Basic Steps to Resting in God”, just stop. Leave the performance zone behind. It is finished for you. Take a nap, watch TV, read a book, go for a bike ride, read the Bible, help a friend, whatever brings you joy. Really, you’re free. It is finished.