Blessed in Christ

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight

Do you know that you have been blessed by God?

In reading the first chapter of the letter to the Ephesians, I have realized how much my thinking about what it means to be blessed has been influenced by the world around me. Most of the time when I think of the person who is blessed, I think of the financially successful person who has no troubles in life. When I pray that the Lord blesses me, I am actually praying to be that financially successful person.  Don’t get me wrong, God does bless people with wealth, but that is scratching the surface of what it means to be truly blessed by God.

In Ephesians Paul praises God for blessing us with every spiritual blessing in Christ(v3). The evidence of this blessing is that “he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (v4). This means we have been adopted into God’s family, redeemed by the blood of Jesus and forgiven of our sins(v5-7). We can stand blameless and holy before God because of what has been done for us on the cross.  In Colossians, Paul puts it like this: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (chapter 1 v 21-22). Getting all the wealth in this world pales in comparison to what God has done for us.  What we have in Christ has no price tag and cannot be purchased with the world’s riches.  It cost God the life of His own Son in order that we can have life.  This is why Paul can say in Philippians 3:8-9: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith“.

The danger in recent times is that what we really want is the “all things“.  We don’t see how truly blessed we are because quite frankly we would rather have the car, the house, the job etc.  I actually heard a preacher say once that what we really need is earthly blessing and not spiritual blessings. When we stop seeing the need for what God has done for us and how he has blessed us in Christ then we no longer see the need for a Saviour.  When we no longer see the need for a Saviour then we are truly lost.

If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior. ― D.A. Carson

And He did all this “in accordance with His pleasure and will” and the riches of His grace “that he lavished on us“.  It was not something we deserved or had any rights to.  He did this for His own sake and he did this according to His will and plan which is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”  There truly is reason to praise God!!!

My question then is do we sincerely believe that? Do we sincerely believe that as Christians we are blessed beyond measure because we have been chosen by God? When we count our blessings and name them one by one do we include the fact that we have been chosen in Christ to be holy and blameless?

God has set apart His people from before the foundation of the world to be His chosen and peculiar inheritance. We are sanctified in Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit when he subdues our corruptions, imparts to us grace, and leads us onward in the divine walk and life of faith. Christian men are not to be used for anything but God. They are a set-apart people; they are vessels of mercy, they are not for the devil’s use, not for their own use, not for the world’s use, but for their Master’s use. He has made them on purpose to be used entirely, solely and wholly for Him. O Christian people, be holy, for Christ is holy. Do not pollute that holy Name wherewith you are named. Let your family life, your personal life, your business life, be as holy as Christ your Lord would have it to be. Shall saints be shams when sinners are so real?
― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

A Twist in the Tale

We all know the story of the paralytic who was healed by Jesus Christ. His friends take him to see Jesus and because of the crowd they decide to go up to the roof and make a dramatic entrance. Jesus heals the paralytic, the crowd is amazed and everyone goes home. At least that is how most of us will remember the story. But there is one important aspect of the story that can be completely missed. One way by which we can get a clearer idea of what the author’s intent is in writing any passage is by carefully noting things that are out of the ordinary in the passage. When the author adds some detail or omits some detail that would have ordinarily not been there. Or when a statement seems out of place or odd given the flow of the rest of the passage.

Let’s look at the passage about the paralytic (Mark chapter 2:1-12) to see what I am getting at. But first picture the scene in your mind. Jesus is in the room surrounded by people. They hear some noise above their heads, look up and the roof is removed and this paralytic man is lowered to the ground (verse 4).  Jesus sees the faith of this man and his friends (verse 5) and says, “Son …”.  Ordinarily I would expect him to say “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home”. We already know he has the power to heal; he healed a man with leprosy, Simon’s mother-in-law and many others in the last chapter. It is also quite obvious what the paralytic man and his friends are expecting after going through all this trouble. The man has come to be healed and that is what we would have ordinarily expected to happen next. But there is a plot twist, Jesus says “Son, your sins are forgiven“.  At this point, let me suggest to you that the author is trying to let us understand that Jesus is not just a man who can heal but Jesus is able to do what only God can do; forgive sins. The scribes understand this that is why they question in their hearts “Why does this man speak like that?… Who can forgive sins but God alone?” If we miss the significance of what Jesus says to the paralytic man, we miss the entire point of the passage.

We could talk about the faith of the man and his friends. We could talk about the virtues of not giving up and pushing ahead even if it means making a hole in the roof. We could even talk about Jesus the miracle worker who can heal even the paralytic. But to do so will be to miss the heart of the passage which is easy to identify when you realize the strangeness of Jesus’ comment given the circumstances. Sometimes our familiarity with a particular story makes us read it less carefully than we ought to. We easily gloss over details that should be the light that makes the rest of the passage clearer.

The point of the passage is further made when Jesus heals the man to prove that he has the power to forgive sins. It is easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” than it is to heal. Because with healing there is physical proof of the result while with forgiveness there is no such physical evidence. So Jesus does what is easier to proof, the healing of the paralytic, to show that he has the power on earth to do what is easier to say, the forgiveness of sins. You see the whole passage is about the fact the Jesus Christ has the power on earth to forgive sins and he shows this by healing the paralytic. The primary miracle is that the man was forgiven of his sins by Immanuel (God with us).  And I think closely linked to that is the fact that Jesus saw that the man’s greatest need at that moment was that he didn’t have his sins forgiven. Which is not how most of us would have read the situation. We seem not to realize what a wonderful thing it is to be able say that our sins are forgiven. We seem not to realize that our greatest need is to be reconciled with God and the only one who has the power to do that is Jesus Christ.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – (Col 1:15-20)

The man came because he couldn’t move but he was given something more precious, he was given forgiveness.

Sin, like a venomous disease,
Infects our vital blood;
The only balm is sovereign grace,
And the physician, God.  – Isaac Watts

 

Author’s Intent

Knowing what a person intends to say is quite important when it comes to understanding the words they say.  Let’s say for example Bob says “He killed it today!”.  Depending on what Bob intended to communicate, the sentence could mean completely different things.  It could mean Bob saw someone killing a big cockroach(or some other terrifying beast) today or it could mean Bob saw a singer deliver a jaw-dropping performance(yeah urban slang can be weird).  In everyday conversation we are always trying to find out what the other person is trying to communicate.  That is how we understand each other when we speak.  Even when we read the newspapers, magazines, blog articles etc, we try to find out what the author is trying to communicate.  No one reads a newspaper article about Ghana winning the world cup (sigh!!!… one day!!!) and concludes that the author is writing about Skynet destroying the world with rainbow unicorns!!! That cannot be the case if all the author was doing was telling you that Ghana beat Germany in the finals.

The same principle holds when we pick up the Bible to read.  The Bible is made of a collection of books; each written by an author who intended to communicate something.  We can easily come up with wonderfully creative interpretations of verses if we don’t think about what the author intended to communicate when writing that particular sentence (like wrongly accusing Bob of violence against household pests when he was really talking about his friend Kwaku’s performance).

Words have different meanings in different contexts… When we consider a verse in isolation, one meaning may occur to us. But how do we know it’s the right one?
Let’s take this popular verse:“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Phillipians (4:13)
Looking at that verse alone, it could mean a whole variety of things.  One day I will be a millionaire because I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  I will pass that exam because I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  And I could keep coming up with different scenarios where I can use this verse and even feel comforted by it.

But the question we must always ask ourselves when reading a verse in the Bible is this: What was the author’s intent? What was the author trying to communicate? We can answer this question by looking at verse in the context in which it was written and see how that changes our understanding of the verse.  For example when I add the preceding verses, see how our understanding of the verse can change.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
– Phillipians (4:10 -13)

It now begins to sound less like a rallying call to be a millionaire.  As one writer put it: “Looking back at verse 11, we see that Paul is really talking about how he has “learned in whatever situation. . . . to be content.” He continues in verse 12, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” In context, it seems that “all things” refers to all manner of life circumstances we encounter, not all goals that we set for ourselves. While the American dream tells us that finding happiness requires continually striving for more, not settling until we are the best and have the most, Paul tells us that satisfaction has nothing to do with our circumstances. Whether life was going really well or really poorly, with Christ’s strength, Paul learned to to be content“.

Next time you read a verse, ask yourself.  Is the meaning I have in my head actually what the author intended to communicate?