On several occasions, I have had the opportunity to witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. The precision with which this exercise takes place is practically mesmerizing. But what I find even more fascinating are the tales that are told of when those on duty face extraordinary weather events and refuse to take shelter. They hold their ground.
Paul concludes his letter to the Ephesians with more words of wisdom and encouragement. He reminds his readers that they will face the devil’s schemes and that they better be prepared.
Preparation for battle takes many forms: from the physical training to acquiring the best equipment. But the most important thing is to have the mindset of a warrior. What Paul is telling the Ephesian church and you and I is that we HAVE to believe that God is who He says He is. We MUST take heart and have faith that He will do what He says He will do. We CANNOT have ‘Plan B’. We NEED to remain strong and determined regardless of the circumstances.
The enemy will do whatever it takes to try to take us off course. We’ll be faced with trials and temptations; things that challenge our fortitude and things that might distract us from our purpose. Our reputations may be questioned; our relationships threatened; our resources depleted – but we can put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, helmet of salvation, and have our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. We can pick up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit and choose to stand and face whatever comes our way.
You are a mighty warrior of the Most High. It’s time to hold your ground and take a stand.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What is the purpose of each piece of armor described in Ephesians 6?
What do the devil’s attacks and schemes look like for you right now? What attacks have you already faced victoriously?
Which piece do you more often forget to put on? What is the danger of going into battle without this piece of armor?
A few years ago the term YOLO became popular and used as a reason to partake in some very reckless behavior. If you’re not familiar with the acronym, it is an abbreviation for You Only Live Once. It drives me bananas when I observe others taking unnecessary risks because of this attitude.
I admit that I tend to be cautious. I’m not a huge risk-taker. I prefer to know possible outcomes before making a decision. I have the mindset that it’s because I only live once (this side of God’s Kingdom) that I want to be prudicious with my choices.
As I approach the half-way mark of life, I am even more aware of how precious my time, energy, resources and relationships really are. Knowing and respecting my priorities helps me make decisions that align with the kind of life that I believe God is calling me to live.
As we continue through the letter to the Ephesians, Paul is instructing the new believers in the local church to evaluate their life choices. The way that they used to live is no longer in alignment with a holy lifestyle. To live carelessly and without regard to the purpose for which they were saved is a waste of time.
We too need to be self-controlled and alert. We need to know who we are in Christ and make decisions accordingly. Living in these times requires us to use our resources of time and energy wisely so that we can make an impact and a difference for the Kingdom of God.
Sometimes, this way of living does mean that we will take risks and might look foolish to the world’s way of thinking. But if we are obedient to God, those risks will pay huge dividends because others will have an eternal benefit.
So as you go about your day, your week, your month, and even the rest of this year, be strategic; be careful; be wise about how you live your life in Christ.
Once again, I’ll ask:
What should you continue doing?
What should you stop doing?
What should you start doing?
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Do you consider yourself to be living life wisely? What adjustments might Paul suggest to you?
What should you continue doing? What should you stop doing? What should you start doing?
One of the most important things a teacher does at the beginning of the school year is establish and practice procedures and routines. From how to enter and exit a classroom, to how to hand in paperwork, to technology expectations, and even knowing how to interact with partners and small groups – these procedures, when done with consistency and proficiency, will create a positive and inclusive classroom environment.
One would think that a high school teacher wouldn’t have to spend time on such things, but even sixteen year olds need a reminder every now and then about when it is and when it is not an appropriate time to ask to use the restroom.
But when these kinds of procedures are practiced throughout a school, it builds a culture of excellence. The standards for behavior and academic performance are raised and students find themselves meeting those expectations.
As I read through Ephesians chapter four, I recognize Paul explaining to the Ephesian believers what a holy lifestyle should look like; what kind of behaviors are acceptable and the kinds of behaviors that are not – especially when it comes to their attitudes and speech.
Being a believer in Christ should be reflected in how we think about and present ourselves. We no longer engage in unholy behaviors – that’s the old self. The new self is transformed to be righteous and holy. And this should be evident in our day-to-day interactions with others.
Paul also explains that as a member of God’s family, we each play an important role. When we collaborate with one another amazing things take place for the sake of the Gospel.
It is important to note that living a holy lifestyle takes intentional effort – it doesn’t just happen. We have to work at it. Much like a classroom teacher spends significant time at the beginning of the school year establishing procedures, regular reminders are key to maintaining a smooth-running classroom. Likewise, if we intend on continuing to grow up spiritually, we also need regular reminders of what a mature believer says and does. This is why the study of scripture and community fellowship is so valuable. As we associate with like-minded believers we are encouraged to continue putting on the new self and working towards becoming the person God has designed us to be, righteous and holy.
Looking at Ephesians 4 again, what “old self” attitudes, actions, or mindsets does Paul tell the believers to get rid of. In your own “old self”, what have you been (or are currently, or ought to be) working on removing?
Describe the “new self”.
Looking at your own life, what percentage are you “New Self” – are you still walking around in “old self” socks? What will it take to boost that “new self” percentage higher?
Ephesians 3:16 – I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…
As a fan of superhero movies, I really like understanding the origins of how regular people acquired their superpowers. Whether it was from a spider bite or from the released energy of a crashed light-speed engine, it’s fun to see how their skills develop over time.
In the book of Ephesians, the author, the apostle Paul, is writing to a church of new Gentile believers. The origin story of these Christians most likely includes a history of idol worship and pagan rituals. Learning to believe in one true God was a new concept for them. Not only that, they were being introduced to a Messiah who made it possible to be in a personal relationship with the God of all heaven and Earth. They were learning that this personal relationship with God meant that they had a job to do: to participate in the sharing of the Gospel. And this participation would require them to rely on the power of God to accomplish all that He was calling them to do.
In my imagination, I think that the experiences of these new believers learning to lean into the power of God is a little similar to superheroes learning to use their powers. New discoveries of what might be possible; determining how and when to use these gifts and for whom; and probably failing every now and again.
For some superheroes, the more that they use their power, the stronger they become.
As believers in Christ, our faith also grows more powerful the more we exercise it. I sometimes wonder what might be possible if I could get out of my own way, completely, and totally rely on the power of God. I wonder if this happened if I might be more like the original disciples who healed, ministered, and preached to hundreds and thousands.
I know that with each passing year my faith in God grows as new and different circumstances require me to lean into the power He offers. I think that is why this particular prayer that Paul prays for the Ephesians is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. In Ephesians chapter 3, verses 16 through 21, I read one of the most encouraging prayers that is offered up to believers. When I read this portion, I am strengthened in my faith and my desire to serve God grows. I want to see what God can do in and through me. I want to put on my super suit and get to work.
So how about it? Will you join me in the adventure of a lifetime?
How would you tell the story of how you got your power? Where does it come from? How did you get it? What do you do with it? What could you do with it?
Re-read Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21. Does this sound like your prayer list for your church, your family and yourself? What do you like best about Paul’s prayer? What could you add to your prayers?
Every time I study the word “grace”, I am led to two other words that are not used in everyday language: unmerited favor. My brain is naggled when I look up the definition of one word, only to be more confused by ‘fancier’ vocabulary. I want it simple.
Another reason, I believe, that the concepts of grace and unmerited favor is sometimes a challenge to wrap my mind around is that it’s not frequently extended in practice – from others to us or even from us to others. There is so often a string attached, an expectation to meet or a limit set. But that’s not how the grace of God works.
God knows every bit of our lives: our thoughts, words, actions; the good, the bad, and the ugly – and decides to freely offer His grace – a gift that we really don’t deserve – to us so that we can be in right standing with Him.
Teachers often have “back to school” dreams where something inevitably goes very wrong. Last night I had a dream that my supervising principal kept finding mistakes in my work. And in my dream, she was getting frustrated and I developed a growing concern for my job. Thankfully, that’s not my reality. My principal is great and trusts me to do my job well.
God isn’t a supervisor who is tracking all of your mistakes and missteps, evaluating your every move, just waiting to see if you’re good enough to keep, or if He needs to remove you from His team.
Yes, He sees our every move and He rejoices in our successes. He also continues to love us and support us as we stumble, fall, and fail. He’s the one who lifts us up, brushes the dust off our knees, wipes away our tears, and tells us that we can do hard things because we can draw our strength from Him.
This is grace: God’s unmerited favor.
How would you describe God’s grace to someone who has never heard of it before?
What do you love best about God’s grace? How has He picked you up after you have stumbled.
Living in Arizona, there is no shortage of Mexican restaurants. One of the best parts of eating at one is the delivery of warm crispy tortilla chips and moderately spicy salsa within minutes of being seated. Each restaurant’s chips and salsa are different and wonderfully delicious. You can get a hint of the caliber of your main entree by the quality of this appetizer. If the chips and salsa are especially tasty, I will fill up on that by the time my chicken chimichanga is brought to the table.
As I read the first half of this first chapter in Ephesians, I am struck by this phrase in verse 14, “who (the Holy Spirit) is a deposit”. Wait…a DEPOSIT?!?! You mean there’s more to be expected? It’s a very crude comparison, but it’s almost like the chips and salsa…it’s so good all by itself. But I know that something even more wonderful is coming.
I guess somewhere in my understanding, I have KNOWN that when the Kingdom is established on the earth, that it will be more than whatever it is that I can possibly imagine. But I hadn’t ever made the connection that the Holy Spirit is the deposit to my FULL inheritance in Christ.
Usually, a deposit is a fraction of the full amount in order to hold an item on your behalf. So if the Holy Spirit is a deposit to hold my spot in the Kingdom…how much more will the full experience of the Kingdom really be?
Back in Acts 1, Jesus tells his disciples that the Holy Spirit will empower them to be witnesses. Likewise, as believers, we also are given the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can do great and mighty things for the coming Kingdom of God. This is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms (Eph 1:20).
Unlike eating chips and salsa, which I tend to not want to share, we are meant to do something for others with this deposit. We are meant to minister and serve. We are meant to teach and show hospitality. We are meant to impart compassion and discern wisdom. We are meant to pray for and encourage others. We are meant to give and sacrifice our time, energies, and resources.
I recently wrote in my journal three questions. I’ll conclude by asking you the same as you consider this deposit of the Holy Spirit.
Last week, we talked about our identity in Christ, grounded and rooted in him and made new in his grace and mercy. Today, we have one last look at this identity, and I think it’s important to read Ephesians 5 and 6. In response to this new identity, we are called to a new and better way.
First, husbands and wives are called to love and to submit to one another in reverence for Christ. (5:21-33) Children are called to honor their father and mother. (6:1-3) Fathers are called to train and instruct their children. (6:4) Relationships between slaves and masters were expressed to show a better way to treat common social relationships in that day, and that Christ makes slave and master equal. (6:5-9) Praise God that as we have expanded on the promises of Scripture, slavery has been eradicated in the US and is fought against around the world.
BUT, what I really want us to look at is how we are called to dress. I really enjoy renaissance fairs. It’s great; enjoying nature, seeing people dressed in amazing costumes, laughing at jokes and enjoying fair food! Who doesn’t love gnawing on a GIANT turkey leg or getting ye olde bratwurst? But my favorite part is the jousting tournaments. Knights dressed in armor, charming on horseback. In most jousts, the joust is real : they don’t plan who will hit the other, who will unseat the other, and who will win. How cool is that?!
I know Paul was thinking about Roman armor, but when I think about the armor of God, I imagine a medieval knight. A shining breastplate, a broad and defensive shield, a powerful sword! But is God really calling us to dress with armor, Roman or medieval? He is using the armor as a metaphor. We are in a war, but we protect our heart with righteousness and our head with salvation. We run in peace and wrap ourselves up with truth. When it finally comes time to battle, we pull out the sword of the spirit, the word of God. This means both Scripture and the gospel message, the written and living word of God!
God is calling you to live in response to your identity in Christ. In how you treat your family and friends, in how you fight your battles, your identity in Christ should define everything about you.
May you allow your identity in Christ to better your relationships.
May you fight your battles against Satan, evil, and sin in the power and grace of God.
May you be more like Jesus, this day and every day.
Caitie has been writing all week on our identity in Christ, but as a busy Bible College student she needs the day off to concentrate on her other Bible responsibilities. She’ll be back tomorrow to finish off her series.
Today, let’s look at Ephesians 4 with an eye for who we are created to be – and a little bit of who we are NOT created to be. We don’t have to go far to start creating our list. In verse 1 Paul reminds us he is a prisoner – not an identity we usually strive for – but he wears it rather proudly as a prisoner for the Lord. We must remember to not seek to fit in with what the world may tell us is good and proper and respectable – but what GOD says. Are we living worthy of the calling we have received from God? Even if it puts us in a position that the world doesn’t commend?
What does He call us to be? COMPLETELY humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love (4:2), making EVERY effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (4:3). In other words – be nice. Put away prideful, rough and rude, easily irritated selfishness. There is no place for it in the church family. In any group or partnership made up of individuals it is easy to have the individual needs, wishes, personalities, selfish desires dominate. And, pretty soon, people aren’t playing nice. Paul reminds us of all the things we have in common with the other members of the body of Christ. ONE body, ONE Spirit, ONE Hope, ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God and Father of all, and that God is the biggest and the best – remember that! (4:4-6). All on the same team – the BEST team. Don’t destroy yourself. You, the church, are ONE body – take care of it.
You all have different roles to play: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc… Don’t neglect yours. Do it the best you can, and appreciate others who are doing their role. Only when we are working together can we create a healthy, growing, maturing body becoming more and more like Christ. (4:11-13)
Wisdom will be needed. We don’t want to stay babes in the faith who are easily led astray. It will take work and wisdom to grow up. Beware of men and women (in and out of the church) who do not speak the things of Christ. Don’t let yourself, or your brothers and sisters, be deceived. Search for God’s truth. Know the truth – and share it – in a loving manner. “Speaking the truth in love.” (4:15).
Remember to ALWAYS keep Christ as the Head. It’s not about you – it’s about Jesus. Keep his mission, his vision, his voice, his dedication, his words, his wisdom, his passion, his love for God and others, his focus foremost. That’s the only way to be a church that brings glory to God. Keep God’s beloved Son as the Head. Do your part, support the other parts, and keep Christ as the Head. (4:15,16)
You will be surrounded by worldly people engaging in worldly ways. That is NOT who you are to be. Put off the old self with its wicked ways. Be the new person you were meant to be. Your new self was, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24) That’s huge! My new identity is to be LIKE GOD! First we were told to be nice. Then we were told to keep Christ as our Head. NOW, we are told that our new identity is to be LIKE GOD. Not to be like God in His supreme power, majesty and sovereignty. We are not expected to become all-knowing and all-powerful like the Creator. We are told our new self was created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Do what God says is right and set yourself apart from the world. How’s our righteousness and holiness looking today? What tweaks – or major construction projects – can you and I begin today to become more and more Godly – by doing the right thing and by being set apart from the world?
Paul gives some suggestions.
Is there an area where we need to practice being more truthful to our neighbor (perhaps even to save their life)? Do it. Become more like God and more set apart from this world.
Is there an area where your anger is controlling you and leading you to sin? Stop giving the devil a foothold. Become more like God and more set apart from this world.
Is there an area where we need to replace harmful habits and lifestyles with time and energy spent doing good to benefit others? Stop leaving the work for others. Get busy helping others. Become more like God and more set apart from this world.
Are there times when our mouths (and hearts) are full of unwholesome talk: put-downs, complaining, lies, swearing, negativity, coarse joking, or slander? What do we do and say that saddens God’s Holy Spirit? Stop it! Get rid of it! Replace it! Be nice. Be kind. Be compassionate. Forgive. Because you have also been forgiven. Become more like God and more set apart from this world.
“Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24)
Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at Bible Gateway here – Isaiah 1-2 (what can you find referring to the old and new self in Isaiah 1?) and Ephesians 4
When you think of the word “love,” what comes to mind?
Our culture would like for us to believe that love is found in sappy movies, romance novels or certain songs on the radio, but that’s simply not the reality.
1st John 4:7-11 reads, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
God created each of us with a desire to love and be loved, but He did that so He could be the one to fulfill that desire and work through us. But His love reaches even deeper.
Ephesians 2: 1-10 “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. “
Let’s unpack this passage a bit. First, while we were still sinners and walking in accordance with our own will and what we wanted to do, God reconciled us to Himself through Jesus, even though we didn’t deserve it, out of pure grace. We did nothing on our own to earn that privilege. Secondly, God’s purpose for this was for us to reflect His love and grace to the world so that we could one day enjoy fellowship with Him and Jesus in the Kingdom.
So now that we have received love and grace from God to the point of Him choosing to sacrifice his only Son to bring many of his sons to glory, (as the song How Deep the Father’s Love for Us points out) what are we supposed to do? How do we go about letting our Father’s love radiate though us?
1) Spend time with Him through prayer, Bible reading and worship. Just as a bond is strengthened with your best friend whenever you go out for lunch or whatever you may do to spend time with them, our bond is strengthened with God when we make it a priority to spend time with Him.
2) Invest in your personal relationships, whether that is with brothers and sisters in Christ, or people you may know that are not Christians. We are called to the breaking of bread and fellowship (Acts 2:42) but we’re also called to evangelize and share the Gospel (1st Peter 3:15, 2nd Corinthians 5:20).
3) Finally, tell your friends and family that you love them through words and actions. I know this seems obvious, but in today’s society, social media and text messaging takes away from hearing a verbal “I love you.” When we have a friend or family member that is struggling, quite often we assume that just because we see them online, they must be okay instead of going over to their house to check in and keep them company (with their permission of course). So, I encourage you to ponder how you can show your love and God’s love to those around you.
I think we’ve all experienced chapters in life that were just difficult. Maybe you’re going through one of those times as you’re reading this. Maybe you feel like nobody understands you or hears you. Maybe you’re just looking for a hope to cling to or something to ease the aching hole in your heart.
The good news is…there is someone who knows you more intimately and loves you more deeply than any human ever could.
His name is YHWH. Or, as we call Him, Father God.
It may be true that Father God is just a title and not a technical name, but Abba is the Aramaic Hebrew word for “Father.” Jesus referred to God this way as he was battling with his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Mark 14:32- 36
32 Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and He told His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and horrified. 34 Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow —to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.” 35 Then He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. 36 And He said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”
“What, exactly, is the significance of Abba,” you may ask.
This title shows how God works in the context of being in relationship with His children.
14 All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”
6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!”
Do you see it? The faith, love, and trust we can put in God are similar to the love and trust we put in our earthly fathers. As awesome as our dads can be, God’s love and knowledge of you runs even deeper. Crazy, right?!
With this comes the comfort and peace of knowing that God hears and understands our hearts, even when we don’t always feel seen and heard because God knew everything about you even before you were born!
Psalm 139: 13-16 is a beautiful account of that. “For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know [this] very well. My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all [my] days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.” (CSB)
Another example is one of my favorites, Ephesians 1 verses 4 though 6 which read, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So, we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.” (NLT)
The scriptures say it all. So, to conclude, may I quote one of my Atlanta Bible College professors for a moment, the wise Dr. Joe Martin: “Hallelujah, praise God, AMEN!”