The following is from Robertson McQuilkin in the book, Five Views of Sanctification. This was written as a defense of the Keswick view of sanctification and I find his words incredibly enlightening. In fact, I read this as the opening statement before my sermon on How to Surrender Your Life to the Lord that I preached this past Sunday.
I hope it proves to be a blessing to you.
Average is Not Normal
Average is not necessarily normal. For example, the average temperature of patients in a hospital may be 100 degrees, but such a temperature is not normal. The average score for a group of friends on the golf course may be 85 for the day, but par may be only 72. So it is with the Christian life. The average experience of church members is far different from New Testament norms for the Christian life.
The normal Christian is characterized by loving responses to ingratitude and indifference, even hostility, and is filled with joy in the midst of unhappy circumstances and with peace when everything goes wrong. The normal Christian overcomes in the battle with temptation, consistently obeys the laws of God, and grows in self-control, contentment, humility, and courage. Thought processes are so under the control of the Holy Spirit and instructed by Scripture that the normal Christian authentically reflects the attitudes and behavior of Jesus Christ. God has first place in life, and the welfare of others takes precedence over personal desires. The normal Christian has power not only for godly living but for effective service in the church. Above all, he or she has the joy of constant companionship with the Lord.
But what is the average Christian experience? Church members typically think and behave very much like morally upright non-Christians. They are decent enough, but there is nothing supernatural about them. Their behavior is quite explainable in terms of heredity, early environment, and present circumstances. They yield to temptation more often than not, lusting when their body demands it, coveting what they do not have, and taking credit for their accomplishments. The touchstone for their choices is self-interest, and though they have a love for God and others, it does not control their life. There is little change for the better; in fact, most church members do not expect much improvement and are little concerned by that prospect. Scripture is not exciting, prayer is perfunctory, and service in the church demonstrates little touch of the supernatural. Above all, their life seems to have an empty core, for it does not center around a constant, personal companionship with the Lord.
Remember these truths as you go to worship this Sunday. And, for the honor of Christ, please be different than you have in the past. After all, as the mantra goes, “If things are going to change, you’ve got to change.”
So change and let’s leave Laodicea behind.
Today, before we pray, we will look at some qualifiers in this passage and elsewhere in Scripture. What do I mean by qualifies? They are simply statements in the Word of God designed to let the reader know the promise is not meant for everyone. It is a blanket divider that separates those who are predestined to hear and understand, and those who are not. Let me show you how this plays out in Ephesians 3:1-2, which reads:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you – Ephesians 3:1-2.
Paul begins by describing himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles” and then goes on to divide the Gentiles into two camps (Eph. 3:1). One, those who “have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” (Eph. 3:2). And two, those who have not heard. Or, by implication, have not heard and believed. So Paul is saying the “dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” only means the Gentiles who have heard of this or have had their spirits quickened to the truth. It is a truth proclaimed for everyone, but applied to only some. Just like salvation and so many other aspects of the Christian faith.
Not Everything is for Everybody
Consider the following examples:
Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them (My sheep) eternal life, and they (My sheep) shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them (My sheep) out of My hand” (John 10:27-28). Note the qualifier. Not all sheep belong to Jesus and not all sheep hear His voice. Only His sheep hear His voice and are given the promise of eternal life and eternal security. All created sheep, in this case, humanity, is divided into two categories: Those that are His and those that are not. And all the promises of eternal life are reserved to only one category— those that belong to Him.
When speaking about the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus divided those following Him into two categories: Those who love Him and keep His commands, and those who don’t. He said, “If you love Me, (then) keep My commandments. And (the result of loving and obeying Him) I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17). Of those to whom Jesus spoke these words, some received the promise and some did not. Why? Because of the qualifier, the requirement that must be met. Some of those who heard this statement loved the Lord and obeyed His commands and received the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). And some, who did not love Him but were there for some other reason, did not receive the promise. It was not universally applied to everyone. There were conditions that had to be met.
Then again, in His seven letters written to the seven churches in Asia Minor Jesus once divided those following Him, by the use of a qualifier, into two categories by using the phrase “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). In other words, some will understand the true impact of His message, and some will not. These statements were spoken to everyone but did not apply to everyone. Some heard and embraced “what the Spirit says to the churches” and some did not. The message proclaimed to everyone was, obviously, only meant for a few. Just like the “narrow gate” and “wide road” that leads to either eternal life or destruction (Matt. 7:13-14). People are divided into two categories. Always. Those who approach Christ on His terms, and everyone else. It is just the way it is.
Time to Pray
But for us, we have been chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). We have been granted the supreme privilege of being called sons of God and heirs with Christ and of being able to cry out “Abba, Father” to the Creator of All (Rom. 8:15-17). And we are not of those who consider the message of the cross foolishness or moronic. For us, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18).
So when you pray today, remember what you have already been given. Remember who you are and what price your Father paid for your redemption. Remember, no matter what the world may say about you and your failures, shortcomings, or sins, you have been predestined, chosen beforehand in Him, to “adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself” (Eph. 1:5). And finally, remember you were chosen by Him simply because He wanted you. Or, as Ephesians 1:5 states, “according to the good pleasure of His will.”
Now, armed with a boatload of things to be thankful for, spend some time with Him in prayer focusing on these very verses. And enjoy Him today.
Yesterday we were introduced to the Greek word “mystery” mustḗrion and how its use in the New Testament is different than what it means in contemporary English. For us today, mystery means something not known or unknowable. But in the Greek, where it is used in these passages, it means something that is known or knowable but not to everyone. It is knowledge or truth that is known only to those who it was meant to be revealed. Not to everyone, but to the elect.
But there is more we can learn about this mystery.
When Paul speaks of both Jews and Gentiles being created into one new people, the church, he is revealing something given to him “by revelation” (Eph. 3:3) that will allow us to understand his “knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4). And this revealed knowledge has been, in other ages, hidden from “the sons of men” but is now “revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5) and, as such, it is now being communicated to us.
What is this incredible mystery? You got it. That “the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).
Let’s look at the first promise: fellow heirs. Being a “fellow heir” means the Gentiles are now heirs with Israel and equal beneficiaries of all of God’s blessings a person receives, and will receive, in salvation. There is no longer any distinction in the eyes of God. Both groups, Jews and Gentiles, are now melded into one body by the new birth and “fellow heirs” of all that God has for His children. Can you imagine what that must be?
And again, since most of us are Gentiles, this mystery is the key to unlock our “acceptance in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). And now, since it has been revealed to us, it should bring us to our knees in praise to our Father who planned our reconciliation from the beginning.
One more point before we go to the Lord in prayer. In the Old Testament, there were many clues to this mystery. We see one in God’s promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 where God says, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The phrase “all the families of the earth” would naturally include both Jews and Gentiles. But for centuries the Jews believed this could only be accomplished by Gentiles first becoming Jewish proselytes. In other words, a Gentile could approach God, but only after first becoming a Jew. This led to arrogance and a perceived Jewish monopoly on God’s grace. But that wasn’t God’s plan. He had something much better, a mystery to them but now a truth revealed to us.
Time to Pray
It addition to thanking God for allowing you, as a Gentile, into His Kingdom with full standing as a son, you might also want to think about other mysteries of His character He wants to reveal to you. God’s wisdom is inexhaustible and I personally believe one of our greatest joys will be spending much of eternity learning more about Him. Are there things about God you don’t know? Are they a mystery to you? If so, that means these mysteries are knowable and known to those He chooses to reveal them. And that person, according to Scripture, is you.
Remember, the only difference between the intimacy we have with the Lord compared with the spiritual lives of Paul, James and John, Peter, or even Billy Graham, is the time we spend with the Lord compared to the time they spent with Him. Nothing more. God does not show partiality and He does not like one of His children more than another (Acts 10:34). So the only thing holding us back from the relationship with God we always thought possible, but just seemed out of reach, is the time we spend with Him. And that is something that can change. Right now. Today.
This Sunday morning we will be looking at what it means to surrender your life to the Lord. But, more than just trying to understand what the concept of total surrender means, we will ask the “how” questions in order to learn specifically how to submit and surrender and receive the promise such actions hold. We will take a step-by-step approach to this all-important subject and, hopefully, learn some tools we can apply to other promises in the Scriptures.
I am looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.
The verses we are looking at for the next couple of days are another one of Paul’s blessed digressions. It is his style of writing, his way of making sure we understand the past, present, and future aspects of our relationship with Christ. It is the Holy Spirit’s way of taking nothing for granted and making sure each of us is fully equipped with what we need to know about His church. Let me show you how this works.
Paul ends Ephesians 2 by describing who we are in Christ as fellow citizens, saints, and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19). He then goes on to say the church, now revealed to be made of both Jews and Gentiles, is like a temple of God built on the foundation of Christ and each of us, regardless of our backgrounds, are perfectly “fitted together” into a growing entity for a “dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:20-22). This is an amazing revelation about His church. And it seems natural, after making this proclamation, that Paul would continue in prayer as he does in Ephesians 3:14:
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:14-19).
But he doesn’t. He can’t. Why? Because there is still more to be said about this great “mystery” he only spoke about briefly in Ephesians 1:9-10.
Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth— in Him (Eph. 1:9-10).
Paul knew, through the Holy Spirit, he needed to spend more time letting the church at Ephesus, and each of us today, know about this great “mystery” we call the church and God’s design behind its creation. Hence, we have the wonderful and blessed digression of Paul in Ephesians 3:2-13.
The Church— the Great Mystery
What is this mystery? And what does the word “mystery” mean?
The word “mystery” is used four times in this chapter alone and, therefore, seems to be an extremely important concept for believers to understand. The Greek word translated “mystery” is mustḗrion and means “something hidden or not fully manifest.” But you must understand the original use of this word in order to grasp what the passage is saying. In contemporary English, we use the word mystery to speak of something unknown or something unknowable. “I don’t know how that happened. It is a mystery to me.” But in New Testament times the Greek word refers to something that is known or knowable but not to everyone. It is some truth or knowledge known only to the initiate, or only to those it was meant to be revealed. When the word is used in Ephesians, it is meant to describe something that was unknown before Christ came, but is now fully revealed. It is a mystery to some, but to us, the church, it is revealed truth given to us at this time.
We will speak more about this word tomorrow, but for now, let’s close by looking at how mustḗrion is used in Ephesians. Hopefully, this will give you a deeper appreciation for the digression of Paul (Eph. 3:2-13).
Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself – Ephesians 1:9.
How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) – Ephesians 3:3-4.
And to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ – Ephesians 3:9.
This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church – Ephesians 5:32.
Time to Pray
There is much about the Christian life that is a mystery. And God’s ways and His wisdom are called a mystery to those who don’t understand, to those who are outside of the family of faith.
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory – 1 Corinthians 2:7-8.
But for you and me, they are not a mystery. We have been granted, by grace alone, the privilege of having these truths revealed to us through the Spirit of God.
But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God – 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.
So what do you lack in Him? Nothing. What do you not know or what knowledge is being deliberately kept from you by God? Nothing. And where do you find your source of belonging and illumination in the things of God? Exactly, through the Spirit who dwells in you. The only thing holding you back from being all that God wants you to be, is you.
When you pray today, remember what you already have in Christ and thank Him for it. And do not fret about what you think you don’t have. After all, you are complete, not in yourself, but in Him (Col. 2:9-10).
Sometimes, in the smallest of words, the Lord can show a picture of His love in ways we may have overlooked or taken for granted in the past. I see one of these in the verse we are using to focus our prayers today. It is Ephesians 3:1 which reads:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles – Ephesians 3:1.
As we discovered yesterday, Paul considered himself a prisoner of the Lord and not of Rome or the Jews or even Caesar himself. He was totally committed to his Lord and gladly accepted his imprisonment. Why? Because Paul’s God is absolutely supreme and sovereign. Therefore, it follows that God could change Paul’s situation at any time, if He so desired. But since He hasn’t, then this imprisonment must be His will for Paul at this point in his life. And for us, who have the advantage of hindsight 20/20 wisdom, it was the perfect will of God to take Paul off the streets and put him in a cell where he could write many of his epistles for the glory of God.
Not For Me, But For You…
But today, we want to look at a picture of what true Christianity is all about. It is found in three small words, “for you Gentiles.” Paul is saying he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus and freely accepts that fate. But he continues to state the reason for his suffering and imprisonment. And that is “for you Gentiles”, for someone else, for the sake of the Gospel. Paul is saying he is suffering, not for what he did or to pay for his alleged crimes, but for the sake or benefit of people he has never met— “for you” Gentiles. Or, “for you” church in America. Or, “for you”… and put your name there.
“I am a prisoner for your sake,” he is saying. And he learned to live like this from Jesus.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15). Did you catch that? Jesus lays down His own life for the sheep. His sheep. The church, the elect, the called-out ones, for you and me. He could also say it this way, “I lay down My life for you Gentiles.” Or for you Jews, you males, females, sinners, Democrats and Republicans, and Independents, for you who are rich or poor, young or old, blue-collar, white-collar, or no collar, it doesn’t matter. Jesus lays His life down for everyone who is called by His name.
Again, Jesus said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Jesus came to die, the just for the unjust, in order to reconcile sinful, fallen man with a Holy, Righteous, Perfect God (1 Pet. 3:18). He gave His life as a ransom… for you.
Finally, Jesus described the kind of love He has for us when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13) and then has the audacity to call each of us His friends (John 15:14). He was one who loved so great He would gladly lay down His life… for you. And that is exactly what Paul is saying in Ephesians 3:1.
Time to Pray
Who do you love that much? Who would you be willing to suffer like Jesus for? Or, who would you be willing to be imprisoned unjustly for? Your family? Maybe. Your friends? Probably not. Somebody you have never met? Never.
But Jesus did. And so did Paul and countless other saints over the centuries who have counted all things, even this life, as “rubbish, that they may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).
When you pray today, thank our Lord for what He has done in order to bring you to Himself. And then, if you dare, surrender all to Him by placing yourself on His altar as a “living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). And watch what He is willing to do with the life you have placed in His hands.