The natural man.

Have you ever talked with someone that is on a mountain top experience of some kind? They are happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.  They just got married, they just had a baby, they just got a promotion at work, they won a race, or they accomplished something that they had been chasing.

Their countenance is bright.  They really are happy.  They smile more.  Their speech is positive and hopeful.  They stand up straight.  They have a bounce in their step.  And they go about their daily work with gusto!  I am smiling even describing this.

Now, what happens to this person if we take away their health, their wealth, their family and friends, maybe even their liberty?  Now we give them various pains and afflictions.

How do they look and speak and act now?  We would say, well they are in the pits.  They sound and look like they are in the pits.  They are not on a mountain top experience any longer.  They are experiencing dark valley times.  And so, they are no longer happy.  Just the opposite.  They are sad.  And they are not hopeful.

What has changed?  The circumstances of their life.  And I would add this perfection, the physical circumstances have changed.  Their outward estate has changed.  Their possessions and or their ability to enjoy earthly material things has changed.  Many of us, or most of us have or are experiencing this.  But there is a vast difference between proper or godly sorrow about suffering and inordinate and ungodly sorrow. (Eph.2:20, Heb.10:23, I Thess.4:13, 2 Cor.7:9-10)

When men and women lose creature comforts and they weep and wail unconsolably, so to speak, this reveals that their god is their belly and their mind is on earthly things as Paul says in Philippians 3:19.

You see Beloved, when a person finds their supreme happiness, hope, and satisfaction in the things of the world, even lawful things, these things are their god, their idol.

To love anything or anyone more than God is idolatry.  (Mt.6:24-25, Mt.10:37-39, Lk.14:26, 16:13, Mt.22:37)  And idolaters will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Eph.5:3-12, I Cor.6:9)

Though many would balk at this and deny the charge. (Mal.1:6) But in keeping with what we just said, take away those creaturely things and their inordinate sadness and displeasure and perhaps even anger directed at the true God, will in fact reveal, the truth of the matter.  You took their false god away.  (Jg.18:24, 2 Tim.4:10, Lk.12:1-34, Jer.44:16-22)

The spiritual man.

We are in winnowing and refining times Beloved.  (I Pt.1:5-7)

The virus.  The loss of health.  The loss of liberty.  Financial upheaval.  As Believers in Christ, how are we responding?  Are we inordinately miserable?  Vehemently grumbling and complaining?  Overly anxious and angry?  You may say to me, pastor are you denying the greatness of our problems?  No of course not.  I weep with those that weep.

Christ Himself was a Man of Sorrows.  (Job 30:31, Rom.12:15, I Cor.7:29, Isa.53:3-4) But remember Christ looked past His suffering for the JOY set before Him.  Oh Beloved, what instruction for us to follow in His footsteps.  (Heb.12:1-3, I Pt.2:21-25)

My answer to you and to me is, are we denying the greatness of our Christ?!  The One that we profess to believe.  Have we forgotten Christ?  Have we left our first love? (Rev.2:4)  Have the cares of the world, have the fears of suffering choked out our courage in Christ? (Mt.13:20-23)

Oh Beloved, Christ is greater than any earthly good. (Mt.16:26-28, Ps.16:6-11) Christ is greater than any temporal affliction.  Not even worthy to be compared as Paul says.  (Rom.8:18, 2 Cor.4:1-18)

To live is Christ.  To die is gain.  (Phil.1:14-23) Oh God increase our faith. (Lk.17:5) Oh God we believe, help Thou our unbelief.  (Mk.9:24)

May this time that we as Christ’s lambs walk in the crucible, produce in us that holy love of Christ and holy courage in Christ to say with that great minister and martyr of Christ, John the Baptist, oh Christ may you increase and may we decrease. (Jn.3:30, Dan.4:21-26, Isa.43:2)

Glorify Thy name in all the earth.  (Ps.86:9-12, Jn.12:28, Rev.15:4)

The method.

Beloved, we are not going to look at chapter one verse by verse.  I just want to pick out two or three things that make us fall deeper in love with Jesus Christ.

The Christ.

Today I want to look at Ephesians chapter one for the purpose of looking at the greatness of Jesus Christ.  And the greatness of the salvation that we have in Him.

(Ephesus – modern Turkey)

By God’s grace, according to God’s word, may we grow in our estimation of Jesus Christ and what He procured for us.  Such that, we could say with the apostle Paul, we count everything else as dung or rubbish in comparison with the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ and belonging to Him.  Eternal life in Glory with God.  (Phil.3:1-14)

Let’s skim through this chapter.  It will be informative.  I want you to find every reference to Jesus Christ.  (Eph.1:1,2,3,5,10,12,17,20)

I know this may sound silly, but the Bible is about Jesus Christ.  The Bible is not about having a healthy body or a full bank account or even a well-ordered family or society.  The Bible is about Christ the Redeemer, the Savior of sinners.  The Bible is God revealing Himself to us in Christ for our salvation from sins.

See all the places ‘in Him’ is mentioned.  (Eph.1:4,7,9,10,13)  Look at the ‘in Christ’  (Eph.1:1,3,10,12,20)  ‘In the Beloved’. (Eph.1:6) This is our spiritual union with Christ.

Look at v.7 – the Gospel of our salvation.  Notice the blood.  The Bible says the wages of sin is death.  The soul that sins must die. (Rom.6:23, Ezek.18:4,20) And we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Rom.3:10-18, 23)

You see Beloved, Christ is our atoning sacrifice.  He is our substitute.  He receives what we owe.

(Gal.3:7-16)

Christ’s blood frees us FROM the wrath of God, from the broken law of God, from the dominion of the devil, from vile affections, and from the pains of hell.  And Christ’s blood frees us FOR serving God with a childlike love, now in this present evil age and in the age of glory to come. (WCF 20.1)

Beloved, what the church and the world needs now during these trying times of the virus is Jesus Christ.  We need the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The good news that God redeems and reconciles sinners by the blood of Jesus.

Now, you may think, well pastor, shouldn’t we listen to something more comforting or soothing right now?  Why bring up sin and Christ shedding His blood for our sin?  Wait till a better time.  When the virus is over.  Then we can talk about this heavier thing.

One of my favorite men, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) wrote during WW2 during the time when London was being bombed by the Germans.  He said, literally standing among the ruins, what the world and the church need now is the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hear one of my other favorites, John Newton (1725-1807).  O thou that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice, Say to poor sinners, Behold your God.  He comes to take this enmity away.  The cross of Christ subdues it, when every other expedient has been found ineffectual.  The heart, is too hard to be softened by a profusion of temporal benefits, and it is too stout to be subdued by afflictions – but it is melted by the dying love of a Savior and by the discovery of the divine perfections which is exhibited in redemption. (John Newton, Works, Vol.3, p.74, see Isaiah 40:9)

Chapter one is about Christ.  The Christ that died for us and rose again.  The Christ that rules and reigns in glory, waiting to call us home for the eternal state of glory. (WSC 26, WCF 33.1-3)

When we are happy, we need to hear about Christ.  When we are sad, we need to hear about Christ.  When we are full of health or in sickness, God in the Flesh is who we need.  We need to live looking at the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, who conquers all His and our enemies.  And who loves us with an indestructible love.

The grace.

Notice what God does or God in Christ does for us.  He chose. He predestined. He lavished. He made known.  He freely bestowed.  And we receive all that God freely gives us.  And even the receiving is a gift of grace.  (Rom.11:5-6)  Don’t you want to shout?!

I know sometimes people even within the Christian church object to sovereign grace.  They think, if you tell people all that we enjoy in Christ is a free gift and not due to any works or merits of our own, then it will make us slothful and sinful.

The idea is, if you tell someone they are unchangeably eternally safe and saved in Christ, the immovable anchor, that they will go off and use that truth as a license to live in the pig pen of sin.  Let me give you the apostle Paul’s response, God forbid. (Rom.6:1-10)

God’s grace is the great animating and motivating factor in the life of Paul, who was formerly, Christ hating, Christian hating Saul.  But now, it’s God’s grace in Christ that makes him run and serve out of love.

Think of this.  Tell a man, earn your own salvation or God will damn you.  It may make him busy.  But it won’t make him love God or love people.

God’s grace is an expression of God’s love.  And love is the best motivator.

The believer.

Also, very briefly, because I have been presupposing it all along, this great news about our great Christ is for believers in Christ.  Only believers in Jesus have these wonderful things found in Christ. (Gal.3:14-29)

John 3:16.For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (Jn.1:10-13)

Romans 1:16.  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”

Ephesians 1:12.  to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, Spirit wrought, Spirit gifted faith joins us to our living Christ and we enjoy every blessing in Him.  To us they are all yes and amen. (2 Cor.1:20)  Look at the chapter…we are…saints,we have…every spiritual blessing, conformity into the image of Christ, forgiveness of all our sins, sealing by the Holy Spirit, eternal hope, riches of an eternal inheritance.

Our faith in this Christ overcomes the world.  (I Jn.5:4, Heb.11)

The example.

Next, I want us to see one concrete example of that overcoming faith in our overcoming Christ. Actually maybe two concrete examples.  The author and the recipients. Paul and the Saints at Ephesus.  Maybe three concrete examples – us in Christ as well. 😊

Let’s consider the place or the circumstance from which the apostle Paul writes this letter.  (Acts 28:16-31. Other prison epistles – Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.  Eph.6:21-22, Col.4:7-8.  Letter written circa AD 60-62.  Paul is martyred circa AD 64)

Paul was on no pleasant mountain top experience.

Paul wrote this letter as a Roman prisoner, often chained to a Roman guard.  In fact, he referred to himself as Christ’s ambassador in chains. In chapter three he calls himself a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of the Gentiles. (Eph.6:20, 2 Tim.1:16, Heb.11:36, Eph.3:1)

Elsewhere Paul recounts the sufferings and the hardships he endured because he loved Christ and he loved people so much that he served the gospel of Jesus Christ to them. (2 Cor.4:1-18)

It was the goodness of Christ that compel him to serve Christ.  He could not help Himself.  (Gal.2:20) And he writes to people that experience the same amazing grace in Jesus Christ.

Think of this, it was at the very end of his service to Jesus that he finds himself a prisoner.  We tend to think, work hard and suffer when you are young, rest when you are older.  Beloved, our spiritual battle does not recognize our age.  Sometimes our greatest battles lie ahead of us.  And certainly, our final battle lies ahead of us. But Christ Himself has given us the victory.  He has taken the sting of death from us.  (Heb.2:9-14, Hos.13:14, I Cor.15:55-56)

Let that sink in.  He is on a more severe lock-down than we are.

Let’s compare just a bit.  We can go out of our homes somewhat.  Some of us can still go to work.  We still have our full fare of food.  None of us are in chains.  Our homes are more comfortable than what Paul had. Our lockdown is weeks or maybe months. He spent many years in prison.

And the end of his lock down, Paul went before Nero Caesar.  (Acts 27:24) And church history tells us, Paul was beheaded.  He sealed his testimony of Christ with his blood.  (Rev.12:11, 17, Rev.1:9, 6:9) Listen to what Paul said about himself.

Acts 20:24.  But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

Lessons.

Here are some lessons for us.  Paul was a chosen instrument of Christ.  Paul was a saved man.  The Holy Spirit gifted him with true and saving faith in Jesus Christ.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit love Paul (notice I did not say, loved – past tense).  God loves Paul right now.  God is the God of the living and not of the dead.

(Mt.22:32, Mt.17:1-5)

And Christ chose Paul to suffer for the name sake of Christ. (Acts 9:15) God did this.  God appointed suffering for His beloved child. (Isa.53, Mt.3:17)

Oh Beloved, it has been appointed for us to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but also to suffer for His name sake. (Phil.1:29) We MUST go through MANY trials and tribulations before we enter the kingdom of God.  ALL who desire to live godly in Christ will suffer. God says so.  (Acts 14:22, 2 Cor.12:7-10, 2 Tim.3:12)

Remember this.  God ordained all that occurs under His providential government, which is everything. (Eph.1:11) If calamity occurs in a city or a country or the world – God governs this. (Amos 3:6, Isa.54:54:16, 45:7, 25:29) For the Believer in Christ, God has ordained all our suffering for His glory and our eternal good. (Jer.29:11, Rom.8:29, Zech.9:16-17)

Our pleasant things are a blessing.  Our thorns are a blessing.  Everything works to our spiritual good.

Paul’s prison was a platform to show the world that Christ was worth more to Paul than liberty and even life itself.  Beloved, this virus, is a platform for us to show the world and the church that we truly believe in a living Christ (see v.1). And that Jesus is worth serving even when we are suffering.  (Rom.8:17-18)

Now from our chapter one, see how confident and happy and hopeful Paul is!  The entire tenor of this chapter is Christ lives and we who believe in Him will live also.

And when we suffer joyfully, willingly, hopefully because Christ lives, we testify we believe that we will likewise live with Him.  Oh Beloved, how we think, how we feel, how we speak and act during this awful pandemic testifies that we believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come! (Gen.22:12, Heb.11:17-19)

Adverse circumstances work for the greater glory of God and our greater love of Christ and serviceability in His kingdom.

Remember father Job, the Lord has given health and wealth and life, and He has taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 2:21-22)

Remember what George Whitefield said, we are immortal until our work on earth is done.  Beloved Christians, shine for Christ during this dark time! He is worthy.

(Mt.5:16, Jn.15:16, Eph.2:9-10) AMEN.

Benediction

Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

And the eternal High Priest Himself, the Son of God Jesus Christ,

Build you up in faith and truth

And in all gentleness

And in all freedom from anger

And forbearance and steadfastness

And patient-endurance and purity.

(Polycarp – Bishop of Smyrna, A.D. 69-155)

Study Questions.

  1. What is a natural man or an unconverted person? Describe them.  How do you become a natural man?  Into what state is the natural man born?  (Gen. 3:6-8, Eccl. 7:29, Rom. 3:23, Gen. 2:17, Eph. 2:1, Titus 1:15, Gen. 6:5, Jer. 17:9, Rom. 3:10-18, WCF 6.1-3)
  2. What is idolatry? Why is idolatry so offensive to God?  In what ways does the natural man or the unconverted man commit idolatry?  What is the divine penalty due for idolatry? (Exod.20:1-6, Mt.6:24-25, Mt.10:37-39, Lk.14:26, 16:13, Mt.22:37, Eph.5:3-12, I Cor.6:9, Mal.1:6, Jg.18:24, 2 Tim.4:10, Lk.12:1-34, Jer.44:16-22)
  3. What is a spiritual man or a converted person? How does an unconverted person become a converted or saved person?  Jn.1:10-13, Jn.1:1-18, Eph.2:1-9, Jn.3:16, Jn.3:1-10, Rom.1:16, Rom.9:6-30, Acts 13:48, Acts 16:14, Gal.3:6-29, Titus 3:5)
  4. Who is Jesus Christ? What are the two natures of Christ?  What work did Christ come to accomplish?  What does the blood of Christ signify?  (John 1:1-18, Mt.1:21-23, Eph.1:1,2,3,5,10,12,17,20, Rom.6:23, Ezek.18:4,20, Rom.3:10-18, 23, Gal.3:7-16)
  5. What does ‘in Him’ (Eph.1:4,7,9,10,13) and ‘in Christ’ (Eph.1:1,3,10,12,20) and ‘In the Beloved’ (Eph.1:6) signify? How are we ‘in’ Christ? (Jn.3:16, 3:36, Rom. 8:30, Rom.10:1-17, Rom. 11:7, Eph. 1:10-11, Eph.2:1-9, 2 Thess. 2:13-14, 2 Cor. 3:3-6, WCF 10.1-2, WCF 14.2, WCF 26.1)
  6. List some of the things the Bible called you before you were converted to Christ. List some of the things that God calls you now in Christ.  List some of the spiritual benefits that you enjoy in Christ; in this life, at death, and at the resurrection.What has Christ freed you from?  What has Christ freed you for? (I Cor.6:6-11, Eph.1:1-23, WSC 32, 36-38, WCF 20.1)
  7. Where did Paul write this letter to the Ephesians from? Describe his circumstances?  What lessons do we learn from this?  Did God govern his circumstances?  How did God uses these circumstances for good?  (Acts 28:16-31, Eph.6:21-22, Col.4:7-8, Eph.6:20, 2 Tim.1:16, Heb.11:36, Eph.3:1)
  8. Does God bring us into afflictive circumstances? Why? How can we use this for good?  How does our love of Christ affect how we respond to suffering circumstances?  (Phil.1:29, Acts 14:22, 2 Cor.12:7-10, 2 Tim.3:12, Eph.1:11, Amos 3:6, Isa.54:54:16, 45:7, 25:29, Jer.29:11, Rom.8:29, Zech.9:16-17, Gen.22:12, Heb.11:17-19, Job 2:21-22)
  9. Interact with the quote of George Whitefield, we are immortal until our work on earth is done. What does this teach you?  How should we live?
  10. Extra credit. Who was Polycarp?  What were the circumstances of his death?  What do we learn by this?  You may use Google.😊

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