Faith in Christ—always

Life can be a very uncertain affair, and Satan plays on this to make us look for things to trust—things we can see or control. But the big question in life is: are we going to trust our Maker and Redeemer? We need faith. We need to take it up and use it like a shield (Ephesians 6:16).

There’s an urgency about trusting God like this and Paul gives us the reason—Satan is attacking. The unbelief of the world has a way of seeping into us. We start forgetting the unseen world that God is revealing.

The shield Paul is referring to is a large, made of wood, covered with leather and, if necessary, soaked in water. Arrows intended to start fires would be extinguished on impact. In other words, faith is very effective!

In practical terms, having a shield of faith is having God himself as protection (Genesis 15:1; Psalm 33:20; 91:4). Many have found that God is like a shield—‘a very present help in time of trouble’.

Faith like this is not a feeling. It is the confidence the Holy Spirit works in us when we hear God’s word (Romans 10:17). So, let’s see what Paul tells us in this letter of Ephesians.

First, faith is all about Jesus Christ (1:15).

Everything God has done to bless us is done through Jesus (1:3-14). If we forget him and focus on ourselves, we lose the sense of our high calling as God’s holy, forgiven and beloved people.

All the hard work of coming to God has been done by Christ—including saving us by his death. And Christ is called ‘the Beloved’. That’s what the Father calls his Son on two occasions (Mark 1:11; 9:7). And now we are accepted in him. We are loved too.

If we keep looking at him rather than ourselves, Satan can’t get anywhere. He can’t offer redemption when things go wrong. He can’t promise a future of which we can be sure. He has nothing to offer! Not anything that’s permanent or satisfying—or real! His fiery arrows fizzle.

Faith is knowing Christ has gone into action for us. It is enjoying all his blessings.

Second, faith is certainly not about us.

Having faith in Jesus Christ is a decision to make and an action to take. But it’s not something we do alone. We’re not saying, ‘Look at me!’ We’re saying, Look at him!’

We’ve had enough of trusting ourselves. It resulted in some nasty behaviour and states of mind. We deserved God’s anger and got mercy. We were dead and came alive to God. We were nobody and now sit with Christ next to God (2:1-10).

And this is just the beginning! God has done all this so he can show us the full extent of his kindness in the world to come.

Those who forget this are in trouble. Those who think they deserve this are dreaming. But we who know he is gracious are counting on it.

Third, faith is coming to God, confidently (3:12).

Paul tells us not to be discouraged by the difficulties we have to face. We need to go to God and pour our hearts out to him.

In fact, we can be bolder coming to God that we can be in coming to anyone else. He’s given us more reason to trust him than any human can do. People around us may make us feel unwelcome or threatened or inferior. But God makes us welcome.

Fourth, faith is very personal (3:14-17).

Can we trust God with our very selves? Faith includes thinking and deciding but, in the end, it’s an affection that submits to the one we have found can be trusted and loved.

Paul asks for the Holy Spirit to inwardly strengthen us. It takes real people to love—not self-made phantoms.

What God does to save us, and the reconciliation he offers to all nations, leaves us out of our depth. But we need to swim! Trusting in Jesus Christ has taken us to God himself. And God has come to us—into us.

Keep reading God’s promises, and keep asking to grow in understanding until faith grows warm!

We all need to say what Mary says, ‘May your word to me be fulfilled’ (Luke 1:38). That’s how Jesus comes to be born. And it’s how we live by faith.

Satan can’t get near this (1 Peter 5:9). He can’t give anything to someone who is already contented!

Made ready by Christ’s peace

We’re exploring how to live in what God calls the real world. It’s all about whether we will relate to God or not. But there’s opposition to this everywhere.

So now, if we are in this battle, how can an announcement of peace help us? It not only helps but is effective because Christ has won a great victory. He has won the right to announce the peace. And Paul says having this peace and this message gets us ready to fight our real enemy.

The letter of Ephesians tells us how this is so. Here’s three things that are clear.

First, we were far from God. But then, we are brought near to him, by Christ’s blood (2:13-18). An offering has been made for our sins. We have peace with God.

The world assumes God is an enemy to be hated, or a delusion to destroy. But if God reveals himself and tells us he has no more quarrel with us, that our sins are forgiven, our whole being can operate properly. We can think. We can sing. We can love.

It has been noted that atheists often have a personal rather than a logical reason for their belief. Something has happened, or not happened, and they blame God for it. But what if we see that God is not against us but for us? What if we discover we are loved? This is peace with God.

When Jesus rises from the dead, his first words are, ‘Peace be with you’. This was a common greeting at the time, but coming from Jesus, and after what has just happened, it is an announcement of peace between Jesus and his followers. And this means, an announcement of peace with God.

So, Jesus comes announcing peace and declaring good news of happiness (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15). He does this through the preaching of his gospel.

Second, there’s one way of reconciliation for everyone.

This is important to Paul because he has thought you have to be a Jew to know God. Then, he hears the church announcing peace with God without the trappings of Judaism. Jesus has entered his space and says there is room for people of all nations to live before him in peace.

This makes Paul desperately angry. He begins to fight against the enemy he can see—the church. But then, Jesus speaks to him as a friend. ‘You’re having a hard time Saul. Why are you fighting me?’ Paul has come to God with war in his heart. Jesus comes to Paul with an announcement of peace. (XXX; James 3).

Paul now knows the way to have peace with God. And he knows this is the way of peace for the world—Jews and Gentiles (2:13-14).

Jesus has not only resolved the conflict between us and God. He has resolved the reason for our conflicts with one another. He spells this out in some detail (2:15-22).

Jewish worship had pointed to Christ. But now that Christ has come, its purpose is completed and everyone must embrace the reality—Jesus is our peace with God.

So, Jews and Gentiles can come to God in the same way. The reason for Paul to defend his ‘territory’ is gone. Jews and Gentiles can be in the same family. God himself comes to live with his people.

Christ’s peace has removed the need to defend our cultural space. For Paul, it has been religion. But now, he can relate freely—travelling with Christ into all the places God takes him.

The same principle applies to all the other ‘territories’ we create for ourselves. Paul speaks about it in numbers of his letters. With Christ as our peace, we don’t need to make a warring party out of our social status, or our race or our gender (Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28; 5:6; Colossians 3:10-11). If we belong to Christ, we belong together.

Perhaps you can see how urgently we need this peace of Christ—bringing us to God—in the midst of what we call issues today. He puts to rest the seeds of our discontent. He frees us to love without necessarily agreeing, and discuss without being spiteful. We learn this, even if with some difficulty, as we relate to our fellow Christians. But then, this gives us ways to relate to others as we move out into the world.

Third, this announcement of peace is the preparation we all need if we are to engage in the battle ahead.

Paul is astonished that he has been entrusted with such good news for the world. He is ready to go anywhere and do anything that will enable others to know it is true. He is ready to live!

This new way of peace—peace with God—confronts the unseen powers we are fighting against (3:8-10). It names and shames this whole hostility thing and says, ‘You don’t need to be angry!’ That is, not selfishly angry.

If you can’t see the real battle, you have to maintain the rage. And we do! And we are! Even in countries that have no political oppressor, we find one thing after another to fight about.

But what if we can announce Jesus Christ as God’s way of peace! Many will scorn it of course. But then, some will find that the wars they are conducting are not the main game. They will discover that the currents of God’s loving are more powerful and persuasive than all the puff of the world and its Prince.

Paul is telling us to wear this announcement of peace like shoes! We shouldn’t go anywhere without God’s peace in our hearts. We shouldn’t say anything that merely defends our territory. And we should never be ashamed of the blood of Jesus by which this precious peace has been announced to us. This is the peace we have needed. And it is the peace that is needed in the world.

With Jesus, we may say to those who persecute us, ‘It is hard for you to kick against the peace Christ has established!’

Being right really matters

All of us want to be ‘right’. It’s how we are made (Ecclesiastes 7:29) and we feel ill at ease if we can’t justify our actions.

But, in the real world, we are actually living before God. So, we need to be right in his eyes—that’s what righteousness means. Without this, we fall into Satan’s hands.

Some have professed to believe in Christ but not been careful how they live, and Satan has brought them low. So, Paul tells us we need to be protected by righteousness (Ephesians 6:14). We need to put it on!

This sounds strange, but, thankfully, he’s already told us what he means earlier in his letter. We’ll just look at three ways in which this happens.

First, we need to know that a Christian is something God makes.

Paul says there’s a new ‘self’ to put on—created by God, and to be ‘like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (4:24). He’s talking about things we need to do, like being truthful and not getting angry, but our new ‘self’ needs a ‘Made by God’ label on it.

We become Christians because of God alone—a work of grace.  And he creates us ‘in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’ (2:8-10).

Being God’s new creation means we’re already reconciled to God and that he doesn’t count our sins against us any more (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). This is not just a book-keeping entry in heaven. It’s a relationship. A Christian is someone moved by God’s love (v. 14). When it comes to being a Christian, this is where we are always beginning.

Every day, we find our righteousness is lacking—sometimes, badly. But Christ’s blood keeps on cleansing us (1 John 1:9). Our task is to keep clean what God makes clean, not tidy up yesterday’s mess!

Now, we need to be what we are—to act consistently with our new identity as God’s creation. If we forget who we are, we’ve got nothing to be!

The righteous acts we do are basically gratefulness for God’s goodness to us. Anything we do outside this would be making something of ourselves, and that’s not righteousness! What impresses God and deters Satan must be made by God (Philippians 2:13).

In another letter, Paul says we have put on our new self—that’s what happens when we become a Christian. And now we are being renewed in knowledge after the image of our Creator (Colossians 3:10). This is what we must talk about next. But both our beginning and continuing are what God creates.

Second, we need to think in this new way.

Paul calls this being ‘renewed in the spirit of your minds’ (4:23). What God has made is alive and needs to grow. What we’ve received needs to work its way through all of our thinking (Romans 12:1-2).

There’s a lot of talk these days about what is right and wrong. But, in many cases, we are not being asked to think, but to agree. God doesn’t want ‘Yes’ people. He wants us to understand what he says, love what he wants, and think of ways to share in his working.

Our teacher in getting this new mind is Jesus (4:20-21). We can’t afford to trust our feelings or majority opinion. Our understanding of what is right needs to come from him—a gracious Saviour.

But then, he is also the material we learn. He is what is true, and he is what we need to be. It’s his purity, and it’s his kindness that are powerful to help us change.

You could say, we are in his space! He is not just the best teacher but he also the ideal environment for learning. For example, we are to ‘be kind to one another, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you’ (4:32).

Third, we need to change how we live.

A physiotherapist told me once, ‘the body is a cheat’. It finds the way of least effort to do what it needs to—even when it’s damaging itself. The same is true with behaviour. The way we’ve always done things, or what comes naturally, seem preferable to change. But then, no change may mean death! We need to think about what we’re doing.

There are things to ‘put off’. We used to do whatever we felt like—without God, without shame and without limits (4:22). Now we know these things don’t set us free. They deceive and corrupt us. Where Satan is concerned, we’re letting him walk all over us, not standing against him. Sometimes, we just have to say ‘No!’

And there are things to ‘put on’ (4:24), like being self-sufficient and generous (4:28). We need to let the Holy Spirit fill up all our dark spaces with helpful conversation and kindness (4:29-31).

Paul gives us a list of ways in which we can imitate the God who is giving us new life (5:1-18). He tells us to walk carefully, to make good use of time because the days are evil and to understand what the will of the Lord is.  All this needs some enthusiasm and persistence. And we’ll need the company of our Christian friends (5:19-21).

If being righteous sounds boring and conservative, or impossible, think again. You’re a human being doing exactly what you were created to do. You’re enjoying the purpose God has in saving you. And God is treating you with great dignity by expecting something from you. It’s the way to be strong, and the only way to be protected from our enemy.

The Real Breakthrough

How come we need Jesus Christ to be strong and ready to live?

The answer is partly because of the battle that’s going on. We’re living in God’s world, but there’s an undercurrent that says you can stay in charge by assuming people and the environment are all there is.

I’ve shown what can happen when we think we’re only dealing with what we can see. Life can become a cycle of blame shifting and discontent. The anger we see and feel gets out of control.

In fact, our problem is Satan—because he’s messed with us relating to God.

It’s Jesus who makes the real breakthrough.  

So, let’s look at how he—in this world—goes about being the one who is strong. We need to know this, and know him, if we are going to trust him with our life.

We may have the impression that Jesus is always being ’nice’ to people, but if you read the story of his life—the four Gospels—it’s clear that he’s not just someone who responds to need. He takes the initiative to make sure we deal with life’s real issues—not just circumstances.

Jesus doesn’t begin with us! His first job is to go to a desert, alone, and there wrestle with Satan—for over a month (Luke 4:1).

In the place where the first man—Adam—gets everything wrong, this second Man gets it right. He knows the real enemy. And he knows that his only defence against Satan’s cunning is what God says. He sends his enemy off unheeded! And he begins his ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:13-14). Notice, he is strong—in his Father God.

He continues by showing he is stronger than the devil (Matthew 12:28-29). He isn’t just healing people. He is pushing back against the inroads of the devil.

When it comes time for Jesus to die, he says, ‘Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out’ (John 12:31). Notice, he’s called Satan this world’s prince. Drifting along with the world isn’t all it seems! There’s unseen powers behind what we are experiencing.

Jesus says his death will throw Satan down—unable to achieve his goals anymore (John 14:30). And as he dies, he says, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30).

But now we come to why we can be ‘strong in the Lord’.

God raises Jesus—our Saviour—from death. He does this to demonstrate his great power, not just in Jesus, but for us (1:18-23).

Our collaboration with the enemy, our sharing of his rebellion and God’s judgement on it, have all been worn by a loving Saviour. We have forgiveness through his blood. And God raises him from the dead to show that this rebellion doesn’t have a future!

Satan no longer has us on his team. By trusting Christ, you can be strong and ready to live.

Now, anger with one another doesn’t need to rule us. We will deal with antagonisms, but they won’t be the main game. Rather, we will wrestle against ‘spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’—in the space God has created for us to relate to him. ‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you’ (James 4:7). There lots of ways this happens and Paul is going to show us how to ‘take up’ and ‘put on’ this strength of Jesus Christ.

The real world (revised)

If you’re a Christian, you’ll know that life is not just drifting. There are things to know, decisions to make and battles to fight. In the life we have been given, we will need to be strong.

Paul writes about this at the end of his letter to the Ephesians (6:10-18). He has described God bringing us to himself, sending his Son to make it happen, and told us how we are to live. Now, we need to take up the strength he will give us through Jesus Christ.

And he says we will need to stand in an ‘evil day’. There’s a battle on—something particularly difficult and threatening.

When anything goes wrong, our immediate instinct is to blame someone, protect ourselves or attack someone. But if we do this, we are not seeing what’s really going on.

In the real world—as God reveals it to us, our battle is not with people we can see. It’s against ‘powers of this dark world’—headed up by the devil or Satan. And although they are powers of this world, they are operating in ‘the heavenly realms’.

We need to know this space well, because it is where our struggles are happening.

It sounds strange to hear of evil in heavenly places! But it will help if we notice the other things that are happening in this area.

It’s here God blesses us with the full blessing of being in Christ. It’s here we find out we are chosen, called sons and daughters of God, forgiven through Christ’s death, and told many things about the future we will share (1:3-10). It’s the space where we know and relate to him.

Then, it’s the place where Christ is reigning—seated beside God (1:20). In other words, Christ is totally in control of the place where we relate to God. We should be enormously grateful for this.

But there’s more. We have been raised up from our spiritual death to sit with Christ in God’s presence—in ‘heavenly places’ (2:6).  It’s the space where we enjoy his friendship.

But then, this space is also where God displays the greatness of his work in us for others to see—the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (3:10). Who are these other creatures inhabiting the space we share with God?

Our passage now makes this clear. They are ‘the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (6:12).

So ‘heavenly places’ is not heaven. Satan can’t be there. And we are not in heaven yet. But we are in these heavenly realms and so is Satan. In other words, he and his hordes come to mess with our relationship with God.

It turns out that ‘the heavenlies’ are the arena we are living in now! It’s the way things are. The real battle in life is about relating to God. If you are ignoring ‘the heavenlies’ you’re not dealing with your God, or with your real enemy. You’re not really ready to live.

Having to battle in this space is how things have been from the beginning.

God puts Adam and Eve in his Garden of Eden—the space in which they can relate to him. Everything is wonderful and there is unfettered companionship between God and his creatures. Satan enters this space. He sows doubt about who God is. He suggests to Eve and Adam that they should decide things for themselves.

In very short time, he has moved them over to his side (Genesis 3:1-6). They eat the forbidden fruit and immediately are ashamed. Satan has others with him now who are experiencing God as an enemy rather than as a friend.

Our first ‘parents’ got us all involved in Satan’s plan. That’s the battle that’s going on.

If you think this is just something ‘spiritual’—in the sense of being unreal—think again. The battle is being worked out in a very domestic way.

In Eden, Adam and Eve immediately start blaming others. They don’t deal with the real problem. They start fighting each other. And it goes on. Their oldest boy kills his younger brother.

Notice, they have given opportunity to the devil by not accepting that their enemy is Satan. The blame game goes on amongst us humans and the devil gets free points!

Everyone has this problem. The world tries to deal with its own community angers, but, all too often, it uses anger to try and resolve anger.

If there’s no one to resolve our dispute with God, our social battles become messy and complex. We are surrounded with hostilities and power plays. While we think the problems are merely human, and solvable, we are living in ‘fairy land’!

Paul has already given us some idea of how anger can play into Satan’s hands. He says, ‘be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil’ (4:26-27).

There are some things that ought to make us angry—enough to make us speak up, or act. But anger can take us over. It can move from being right, to being wrong—in a flash! Satan will have us being furious with each other while we don’t even admit he exists—and he’s laughing.

Given this is the battle we are in, Paul will tell us how to be strong in the Lord. We are going to need all of who he is and what he has done. We are going to need to take it up and to put it on. But more of this in the next articles.

Being true really matters

This series of articles all have to do with being ready to live, and ready to live in the real world. We’ve seen that this arena is not just the one we can see. There are ‘heavenly places’ where we relate to God and know his blessing. It’s a place where Christ reigns. And it’s also a place where Satan works with hateful constancy.

Paul says we need to be strong and stand our ground (Ephesians 6:10-13). And our first line of defence is truth.

An editorial in this morning’s paper claims that lies have become a way of public life in Australia. It says that much of what we hear is carefully crafted (it’s now a major industry), not to inform, but to exert power.

But lies are not the way to win in the real world we are in. We need truth!

Notice that it’s not a truth that originates from us. Paul uses imagery that shows we pick it up and put it on. What is this truth? Paul doesn’t leave us guessing.

Truth is Jesus himself (4:20-21). He’s come to our world and said what is true. But he’s also lived it. His goodness is real. And his love is real. And it has encompassed us, and saved us. Where truth is concerned, we have to start with him.

It would be worthwhile reading one of the Gospels through, and ask if this man Jesus is true. Paul is saying, we’ve heard about him, we’re surrounded by him—heard him speak in a way. In this way, we’ve discovered that the truth is in Jesus.

Our Lord towers over the make-believe, the ideologies, the excuses and straight out lies that make up so much of what we see and hear around us. Many have given up believing there is such a thing as ‘truth’. So, there’s nothing that can tie us together as a community. Nothing that can lift us out of the world we’ve imagined.

Compare this with Jesus. He challenges people to prove him to be false—a bold public claim. And he calls the devil the father of liars (John 8:44-47). He tells Pilate, in court, that he has come into the world to reveal the truth and that everyone who is true will come to him (John 18:37).

In the process, Jesus exposes us all as sinners, but he loves us and brings us to God. That’s not only the truth of Christ. It’s now the truth about us as well (John 3:20-21).

The Lord knows we don’t have the ‘stomach’ for this battle—in this case, the battle to live truly. Prophecies have told us how God clothes himself in righteousness (a breastplate) and salvation (a helmet), and deals with the godlessness himself (Isaiah 59:16-20). He intervenes.

In fact, the Lord comes to us as our King, wearing righteousness as a belt and faithfulness (or truth) around his waist (Isaiah 11:1-5). In other words, God must take up the fight or we are lost. And he sends Jesus to do the job, wearing righteousness and truth.

It’s ‘no secret that this intervention is done by Jesus on his cross (see Isaiah 53:12). It’s here that he goes to war with Satan and disables the apparatus—the lies and the accusations—that Satan uses against us (Colossians 2:15).

So, here’s an end to our self-importance and self-justification. These are the things that stop us speaking the truth to each other. They make us unreal. They lead to conflict or withdrawal from meaningful relationships. But now, our inclination to massage the truth, to make it palatable to our ego, or to further our ambition, is gone.

We can acknowledge we are unworthy sinners whom God has loved and for whom Jesus has died. In the light of this, we can speak the truth to each other (4:15, 25). Because we’ve lost our need to be the one who is right, we can see and speak about things as they are.

We’re free to say we were wrong. We can enjoy what others are doing. We can disagree without ceasing to love. We can investigate something that is new. We are free—in the truth!

Our truth telling doesn’t need to be brutal—exposure for the sake of being factual. It comes from the perspective of Christ being Lord. It’s about what will build up another person, not what will tear them down (Colossians 4:5-6). It’s about what will heal a community, not what will serve a party interest.

It’s important to actually do this! Apart from Christ, our life is a lie, and Satan will use this to his own advantage. But if we receive Christ as our truth, and stand in him, and relate to others by him, Satan is foiled. And wonderfully, a community is born where people live for each other rather than for themselves.

We’re doing something real, in the real world—and something that’s eternal.