Words from the teacher

My text will be Ephesians, Chapter 2, verses 8, 9, and 10.

Years ago I served as a counselor for some evangelistic meetings. They were held in a large auditorium, and involved many local churches. Counselors for these meetings were required to memorize (or have memorized) several Bible verses. These included Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9:

"For it is by grace you have been saved, trough faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast."

The words, of course, were penned by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. But Paul didn't write these words in order to tell us that works have nothing to do with faith, although some people would want to use it that way — perhaps to support what Pastor Zander calls a "reductionistic" gospel — an oversimplification.

But beware. In 2 Peter 3:15,16, Peter says " ... our dear brother Paul wrote you with the wisdom God gave him. ... His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which [certain people] distort ... "

In order to not misunderstand — in order to not distort, it is imperative to read the entirety of what Paul is saying. If he has an argument leading to a conclusion, look at the conclusion before judging what the words in the argument mean. In the present case, we need to look at verse 10, in order to understand exactly what is being said in verses 8 and 9. Here's verse 10:

" For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

So what does verse 10 tell us about the works in verse 9? They are works we do on our own hook — ones we could brag about — works that would qualify us for salvation. They are not the good works that God has prepared for us to do.

So what is the gospel? In the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul identifies what he, Paul, means as the gospel: "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then, ... " — then, on different occasions, to certain individual and groups of apostles.

The first phrase in Paul's gospel says "that Christ died for our sins". In II Cor 5.15 (NEB) Paul says, "His purpose in dying for all was that people, while still in life, should cease to live for themselves, and should live for him who for their sake died and was raised to life."

So Paul's gospel is not a formula for how we can be saved. It's about what God has done. And it has implications for our present life — not just for our status when we die. It does, however, relate to our salvation. Paul says in Romans 5:10, "If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."

Here salvation is linked not to the reconciling death of Jesus, but to His resurrected life. Salvation is more — "much more" says Romans 5:10 — than reconciliation.

By virtue of His resurrection, Jesus has now become the Lord of the entire universe — that includes being the Lord of each one of us. We, Christians, need to accept this, embrace it, and show its effects to the rest of the world.

While at a tourist lodging in Florida, I suffered lower back strain that kept me in bed, watching TV, for a few days. One channel was running, hour after hour, episodes of a program of factual cases where some murderer was finally hunted down and caught. People involved with the case, including the victim’s relatives, were interviewed. These relatives were very anxious that the criminal be found and punished, and in some cases their persistence prodded the police into eventually finding the killer. I got to hear comments from the relatives on the appropriateness of the court's sentence. Not a single one thought the sentence was too hard. Clearly vindictiveness was the prominent attitude. This is clearly normal. It's normal to want to retaliate—to “get even”.

In another real situation, unrelated to TV, a South African woman was asked at the sentencing of a man convicted of the politically motivated murder of her husband and son what she wanted for a sentence. She replied that she wanted the murderer to visit her once a month—to be a loved replacement for her husband and son. She wanted him to get to know her forgiveness and the depth of love she had for him. Imagine that. It seems clear to me that doing what she did is not only not normal but not humanly possible—without God's power. Her love came from God.  In forgiving, she was obeying Jesus, and she had the power to do it.

The angel told Joseph, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Jesus will save us from our sins — not just from their eternal consequence — death, but from the sins themselves. If you belong to Jesus, He will save you from your sin itself. But this is not supposed to be something that happens only in the future. Just as we will be completely obedient in God's future kingdom, but need to learn obedience here and now, so we will be free of sin itself in God's kingdom, but need to start on the path of holy obedience now — not just because that will be the best way to reach others, but for a much, much better reason: Jesus told us to be holy.