Distinctives of a Christian
Pastor Cliff Bergman – Pinawa Alliance Church
Before the curtailment of the Church meeting on Sundays I was leading us through a study of the Book of Ephesians. While I started that study long before there was even a hint of something as pervasive as the coronavirus, it now seems somewhat providential that I began with Ephesians as it lays the foundation of our faith and equips us to victoriously address what may be the greatest crisis the world has faced in our lifetimes.
Today I am going to review some of those grand truths that underpin our faith and provide the foundation from which we can confidently cling to the outstretched hand of God to victoriously lead us through this stretch of history. It is easy to grow discouraged and focus unduly upon some of the hardships and trials we, or our family, or others are facing and will face as a result of COVID-19. This past week our sons learned they will face substantial reductions in their income as the company they both work for addresses the impact of the virus. Earlier our son-in-law learned of a similar outcome for him. Our children will need to learn to get by with less and will have to discover some cost cutting measures as they move forward. But we thank the Lord that thus far they still have jobs, something we have consistently thanked God for in the past. Some of you can identify with this as you, or your children, or grandchildren, or friends of yours have faced a similar fate.
For many of us, isolating isn’t that big a deal, it hasn’t been that disruptive. But that isn’t the case for everyone. For those working at home, especially ones with limited space, it is a fairly major adjustment. Children who formerly were in school, are now learning at home. For some moms, and dads too, their daily schedules have taken on a new twist. It’s no surprise many are wishing for the way things used to be, but the reality is that we aren’t going to realize that desire anytime soon, if ever.
It is one thing to say God will see us through, but how does that happen? Or is it no more than people like me simply repeating some overworked cliché? Oh, I believe it is so much more than a cliché, it is a reality for Christians everywhere. The first thing to have clearly settled in our minds and hearts is the reality of God’s existence and His involvement in the unfolding of history. We are surrounded with unmistakable evidence attesting to the existence of God – His creation. Recently we watched some programs on TV detailing the complexities and uniqueness of some of the creatures and plant life God fashioned. I find it incomprehensible that anyone could miss the obvious, that no matter how long one were to wait, and no matter how many self- initiated random chances were to occur, nothing that complex and intricate would ever spontaneously emerge on its own. Surely, one of the reasons God designed His universe, and the creatures who fill it with such complexity and diversity, is so no one would ever miss the unmistakable evidence of His existence.
Our victory stands upon the solid foundation of truth – truths to permeate through our minds and shape our responses. Turn to the first chapter of Ephesians where some of the grand truths of our faith are recounted. In the introductory words of the letter, the recipients are described as saints, those who are faithful in Christ Jesus. We are saints because of who we are in Christ, our identity is bound up in Him, a truth frequently repeated throughout the letter. It is that relationship that makes all the difference when we respond to crisis and hardship, whether it be COVID-19 or the news we, or a loved one has inoperable cancer, or any other news that threatens to unsettle us. That opening salutation is followed up with
Ephesians 1:2 (ESV) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
With the reminder that we are recipients of His grace, it is as a result of that we possess peace with Him – a peace that stills our souls as our world unravels. Peace is something people search for, especially in a time of uncertainty and disruption. But instead of despair and fear, because of who we are in Christ, we are recipients of inherent peace, a peace that truly does surpass all understanding. (Philippians 4.7)
Paul then launches into pointing out 10 Distinctives of a person whose faith and trust is in Jesus for his, or her, salvation. Let me remind you of them, and as you read them in God’s Word, let them penetrate deeply in your heart and intentionally give them a renewed positon of importance in the forefront of your mind. Allow them to transform your mind as emphasized in
Romans 12:2 (ESV) Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
You may wish to focus on one or two of these distinctives each day this week in your devotional time. Critical to our victory is laying hold of the truth, reflecting on it and saturating our minds with it, allowing what God has said to push aside the doubts and deceptions that satan and his demonic realm seek to unsettle us with.
Paul begins with majestic words of praise which turn our thoughts heavenward, a mindset that is so important in gaining and retaining victory.
Ephesians 1:3 (ESV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
An initiative of Len Rasmussen’s to send out a song of praise each day is aimed at keeping our thoughts focused on God, an essential starting point each day. Focusing on God with an attitude of praise diverts us from an undue focus on ourselves and the concerns we have.
I could have a message on each of the 10 Distinctives, but I will limit myself to some brief comments on each and encourage you to reflect further on these distinctives throughout the week. Consider what they mean to you and your relationship to the Lord. Undoubtedly different ones will stand out more prominently for one person or another.
- Blessed With Every Spiritual Blessing
Ephesians 1:3 (ESV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
Think of the implications of this gift to us and it will surely stimulate your praise and gratitude to God. A number of those spiritual blessings we are recipients of are highlighted in successive verses, but consider the one that lies at the core, that we know God, that we have a personal relationship with Him. This same God, who has created the entire universe and all the complexities and diversity it contains, and whom one day we will see face to face (Matt 5.8; 1 Cor 13.12), and who will be our God and we will be His people in the most intimate of ways for all of eternity (Rev 21.3), this is the One who we have a personal, abiding relationship with. He has given us newness of life and taken up residence within us and we are one of His children (1 John 3.1-2).Aggie began the week rather disoriented and coping with an increasingly failing body. Her view of the Lord whom she loves was blurred, but today she sees Him clearly and is filled with inexpressible joy (1 Pet 1.8 – 9). Think about that reality and as you do it puts things into clearer perspective.
- Eternally Chosen To Be Holy And Blameless Before Him
Ephesians 1:4 (ESV) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of theworld, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
Too frequently people bog down on some of the theological issues relating to God choosing us and the potential implications regarding free will, that they miss the richness of this truth. Perhaps just as we embrace other Biblical truths that surpass our comprehension with our finite minds, we need to do so here as well. Despite not being able to fully comprehend the trinity, namely one God in three Persons, we hold fast to the truth. Or consider how can God who is omnipresent, meaning that He is everywhere at the same time, reside within each of His followers? It is simply true God chose each of His followers before the foundation of the world, while it is also equally true that He extends a universal invitation to people to turn to Him, trust Him, and become one of His children through Jesus Christ (Matt 11.28, 1 Tim 2.3-4; Rom 10.13). God’s choice does not negate the reasonability for people to choose what they will do with Jesus’ universal offer of salvation, a choice each one will be held accountable for.
Consider the distinctiveness of being selected by the God of this universe. Everywhere people are searching for identity and a sense of belonging; our identity and sense of belonging is bound up in our relationship with God Himself who chose us to be holy people, people who on the one hand are deemed to be blameless because Jesus is our righteousness, (2 Cor 5.21), but who are also becoming blameless in a practical sense as we seek to live God-honoring lives.
- Adopted To Himself As Sons Through Jesus Christ
Ephesians 1:4–6 (ESV) 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Closely related to being chosen by God is the truth we have been adopted as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. He did that because it pleased Him to do so. Shortly before His death, Jesus comforted His disciples with the promise He would send the Holy Spirt to comfort and care for them after He was gone. Otherwise they could have felt abandoned – they may feel like orphans who were left to fend for themselves. Reflect on His words of comfort.
John 14:18–20 (ESV) 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
We have been adopted into the family of God – we are one of His children.
- Redeemed Through His Blood
Ephesians 1:7 (ESV) In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.
We are His children because He has redeemed us – we have been bought with a price. Previously I compared the situation facing humankind to being on an enormous expressway headed to a godless eternity and that Jesus provides the singular off-ramp from that expressway. He redeems people from a horrific destiny, and while that redemption is free to all recipients it wasn’t free. Jesus shed His blood on the cross to purchase our redemption from sin (Luke 1.68, Gal 3.13).
5. Forgiven Of Our Trespasses
Our trespasses, those violations of His holy standards of righteousness, have been forgiven. Our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103.12). God no longer takes our sins into account for they are covered by the shed blood of His Son. Consider the magnitude of what that means, to have our sins and trespasses forgiven. The longer a person is a follower of Jesus Christ and the more we read and study His Word, the greater is our realization of the enormity by which we fall short of His holy standard. As we become more Christ-like we realize we not only fall short in our outward choices, but the thoughts and intents of our heart (Heb 4.12).
- Lavished With God’s Grace
Ephesians 1:7–8 (ESV) 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
The term, grace, is used 124 times in the New Testament, an indication of its importance. It is by God’s grace, His unmerited favor, that not only have we been redeemed, but which He lavishes on His children today, whether it is when facing a virus, or the death of a loved one, or facing an uncertain future, or coping with tremendous disappointment. God provides His grace in accordance with our need and He provides it when we need it and does so from His inexhaustible supply. He provides us with enabling strength for today!
- Enlightened Us With Understanding
Ephesians 1:8b–10 (ESV) 8 in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
If there ever was a time when people needed wisdom it is today. Wisdom first of all to not miss what God wants us to see in this coronavirus invasion, such that we don’t ignore the opportunities it presents to us. He surely wants us first of all, and people everywhere, to evaluate our relationship with Him and uncover places where we need to refocus our commitment to Him.
Critical to victory in this is looking at the big picture, viewing our circumstances from a much bigger perspective. And looking at our entire lives within the context of eternity. That doesn’t make the issues of today unimportant, or dismiss cause for concern and focused attention, but it does mean keeping them in perspective.
These verses point out that one of the benefits of knowing the Lord is that He has unveiled our minds so that we might gain a panoramic view of history, whereby we see the unfolding plan of redemption which culminates in the fullness of time with the New Heaven and New Earth where we can be certain there will be no coronavirus outbreaks or need for self-isolation. God remains sovereign and is in control.
Ephesians 1:11 (ESV) In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
While we are already recipients benefactors of so many of the riches of God, the culmination and fullness of those riches lies in the future. And the certainty of one day receiving them is assured by the truth that our inheritance as co-heirs withChrist is according to God’s purpose and He works things out in accordance with the counsel of His will; something that will never fail. The prince of this world, namely satan is a defeated foe (Eph 1.19-23).
9. Sealed With The Promised Holy Spirit
It isn’t uncommon for people, despite the promises of God to grow discouraged as they face trials, but let the truths contained in the following verse lift you up.
Ephesians 1:13 (ESV) 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,
When we heard the Gospel of salvation and placed our faith and trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation, God not only wrote our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev 3.5; 20.12), but He sealed our status with His Holy Spirit who He indwelt every believer with (John 14.15-17, 1 Cor 6.19, 12.13).
10. Secured Throughout Eternity
It is the presence of the Holy Spirit who is God’s guarantee He will follow through with what He has promised.
Ephesians 1:14 (ESV) who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
My prayer is that God will enrich your life this week; that you will find comfort and peace from His word as you reflect on it and the truths bound up in these 10 distinctives of a follower of Jesus Christ will saturate your thoughts and actions this week and fill you with His joy and peace.