Ephesians: Grace in Everyday Life

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The book of Ephesians allows us to take a closer look at the grace God extended to us by raising us to new life in Christ. God wants us to live our lives out of a rich experience of His grace on a daily basis. Interestingly, we forget that as believers we still need God’s mercy and grace just as much as we did before we knew Jesus as Lord and Savior. When we forget the grace of God, we can fall into two distinct errors. We can become filled with spiritual pride, or we can live with a complete sense of failure as we get a glimpse of what the human heart is really like. In fact, we read in Scripture that the heart is the seat of indwelling sin—the heart is the spiritual part of us where our emotions and desires reside. Nothing can ensnare us more than our natural instincts running wild.

DO YOU HAVE A HEART FOR GOD?

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The Bible mentions the heart almost 1,000 times. It is important to note that God also has a “heart.” Of course, we’re not speaking of the physical, beating, four-chamber organ that pumps blood throughout our corporeal bodies. God has emotions and desires, and it is His wish that we develop our heart—our emotions and our focus—after His heart. Acts 13:22 tells us David was a man “after God’s own heart.” This is not an easy undertaking. The human heart, in its natural condition, is evil, treacherous, and deceitful. I was able to take an uncomfortable but critical look at my own heart during a class at Colorado Christian University on Worldviews. My Christian “walk” did not match my Christian “talk” for nearly my entire life. I had a pastor tell me once, “I don’t think you have a heart for God.” It was like getting punched in the stomach!

“The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis. 6:5, NIV).

Whether we know or understand our own heart or not, God does. Psalm 44:21 tells us, “Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart” (NASB). Jesus “knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). Based on His intimate knowledge of the heart, God has the capacity to judge man righteously. Jeremiah 17:10 says, “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve” (NIV). Jesus pointed out the fallen condition of our hearts in Mark 7:21-22: “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly” (NIV). All these come from within us and make us unclean.

Evil Within

In other words, we all have a heart problem. Since sin is lodged within our very hearts, and is in no way peripheral to our experience, it is indeed capable of exerting enormous influence over our heart. Naturally, this has an impact—good or bad—over our behavior and, ultimately, our character. Of greatest consequence is the fact that the human heart is both deceitful and unsearchable. No one understands the importance of knowing the heart more than an alcoholic working his or her way through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Step Four strongly recommends making a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. This exercise is intended to bring the alcoholic to the real problem—character flaws.

THE REDEEMED HEART

It is important that we understand such indwelling deceitfulness requires constant watchfulness. The apostle Peter tells us, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV). Accordingly, it is important that in our struggle to guard our hearts we commit all things to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, Paul said, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. They have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretense that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (NIV).

I Am Redeemed

The redeemed soul, by the grace of God and His indwelling Spirit (Romans 8:13), must press on toward perfection. Does this mean we must get everything right and never make a mistake? No. That would be impossible. In Christian doctrine, perfection means maturity. Our role in this process is to cooperate with God. Allow our thoughts to be taken captive to obeying the commands and example of Jesus. It is through obedience that we can put to death the deeds of the body (Philippians 2:12-13). Furthermore, we need to do this daily for as long as we possess our physical bodies.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

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We must never think that our work of contending against sin—in crucifying, mortifying and subduing it—is at an end. Again, we are not literally to become perfect and without sin. We’ve all sinned and fall short of ever hoping to earn God’s glory. We are not save by good works. Frankly, we’re not capable of consistently practicing only good works. We are, however, saved onto good works. We are to avoid the practice of sin, which amounts to knowingly, willingly, repeatedly sinning without repenting. Remember, the word repent means to “turn away from.” It involves “doing a 180!” Again, I do not possess the innate capacity to do this. I can be absolutely adamant about not gossiping or judging, but five minutes later I’m doing it again.

True victory will come to those who die having fought the good fight day after day.

 

Initial Grace vs. Ongoing Grace

I want to take a few moments to compare justifying grace and sanctifying grace; in other words, initial grace and ongoing grace. This is always an edifying and valuable exercise. As Christians, we tend to forget that we are sanctified through the same means that we are justified. The initial grace that forever changed us was the justifying and forgiving grace of God. The prophets of the Old Testament tell of the good news that God forgives our iniquities and remembers our sin no more. (See Jeremiah 31:34) Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (NIV)  When we repented of our sins and called upon Christ as Lord and Savior, we were forgiven and justified, declared not guilty. We were made righteous in His sight.

Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. (See Hebrews 12:2).  He manifests Himself to us through the Gospel as the One who is able to save us. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our need for salvation. We trust in the saving work of Jesus rather in our own works. Revelation 5:12 says, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” The grace of God, by which we are justified in our rebirth, is the same grace that must continually be at work in us for growth and sanctification.  Remember that the core meaning of sanctification is to be set apart for God.

The biblical concept of ongoing grace is wrapped up tightly with the idea that we trust in the saving work of Jesus, and we see Him as the finisher or, even more succinctly, the perfecter, of our faith. No Christian has mastered spiritual discipline. In fact, the more we grow in grace, the more we realize how little we know apart from God. Spiritual perfection is more accurately spiritual maturity. As we grow in Christ we come to understand our inadequacy to go it alone. Never should we say to ourselves, “I got this!”

The so-called five-fold ministry refers to God giving some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and some as teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service in order to build up the body of Christ. The goal is that we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (See Ephesians 4:11-13)

According to word studies in the original Greek, “for the equipping of the saints” literally indicates an ultimate goal of perfecting or maturing the Body of Christ. Ministering and building are means to this end. The concept is growth through adjustment, and is further explained in Colossians 1:10, wherein the Body is to be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. This is further described in Hebrews 13:21 where God wants us to become perfect (equipped, mature) in every good work to do His will. Clearly, it is only through ongoing grace that we are able to grow and mature in Christ.