Turn with me very quickly to Ephesians chapter 2 and let’s go to verse 8. Just for your information, those who are here and I add my own word of welcome to all of you, thanks for being here tonight and we’re blessed to have you.
We have been going through a very kind of minute discussion of Ephesians and we’re trying to do it very exegetically, just passage by passage by passage and trying to get those thoughts that can really help us to grow in the knowledge of the word of God. Ephesians is such a fertile, fertile letter with so much packed into it that you can just spend, I discovered, months going through the entire book. But tonight what I want to do is just take one passage and concentrate on one theme and rather than go through the different expressions and just comb through it, I want to emphasize one particular aspect that I’ll point out to you in a moment. But here in chapter 2 verse 8 it says:
“…. For it is by grace you have been saved”. And I want to emphasize that word ‘grace’.
“…. For it is by grace you have been saved through faith…-that would be another good idea to keep in mind: grace and faith-…. And this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…”
I mean, this is like, it occurs to me even as I read it that there like the Apostle Paul lead by the Holy Spirit is really intent on sort of nailing this into our consciousness, this idea. You know, because right there, there’s four ways that he’s saying the same thing: by grace, through faith, not from yourselves, the gift of God. So just noted that for a moment.
“… not by word, -maybe a fifth one- … so that no one can boast for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Father we welcome your word into our lives and into our hearts tonight. Free us, Holy Spirit that we might be able to swim in the depths of your revelation. Free our spirits, Father. Free even this place that it might be a proper place for your teaching to resonate tonight in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I don’t know how many have heard the story or read it. I’ve read it many, many years ago. I have the basic gist of it, of a man who was traveling at night in a dark sort of isolated place. I mean he was just walking. He didn’t realize that it was very close to a precipice and happened to slip as I say, in the very thick darkness that he was walking in. And as he was slipping down this, you know, very steep slope, he was grasping at anything that he could hold on to when in the darkness he was able to grab on to some sort of root that was coming out of the soil and it was close to the morning, but it was still dark enough that he had to spend a long time just holding on for dear life to this protuberance from the hill.
And as he was just totally exhausted and lacking in strength and ready to let go, light started emerging and then he discovered that he was… the whole time that he had been hanging on supposedly for dear life, he was only a couple of feet away from the ground.
And that story has always stayed in my mind because it is so illustrative of many of us who struggle at times in life and you know, we are holding on and agonizing and so on and you know, it’s not as bad as we think it is, particularly within the Kingdom of God that we are in.
And I am speaking here by autobiographically in a sense, because I am an agonizing human being. I am a control freak in many ways in many things in life, I don’t like to feel sort of out of control. I like to plan things ahead in ascertain way and make sure that I know the ins and outs and what happens if this doesn’t work, at least I have some other plan and so on and so forth.
And particularly in preaching many, many years of my life I have struggled with this thing of needing to know the territory that I’m going to travel in and having to have all the notes written down. My wife can testify to that. Only lately in my life, after twenty some years of ministry, am I learning to kind of learn to trust the Lord and even as I do my studying and my reading and my thinking of what the topic that I’m going to cover is it going to be, but to just give the Holy Spirit more time.
Remember I’m talking about grace and I’ll connect all of this to you, but I’m beginning with these illustrations to give you the sense of how encompassing grace can be and let me just make a little sort of parenthesis here.
You know, because when we think of grace we think immediately of salvation by grace. But grace is so much more encompassing than that. I mean it has implications for so many other areas of our life. That’s the point that I’m trying to make here. And I think that’s the point that God has, sort of, extracted from all the other things that I could have covered tonight and that somehow I feel that he wants all of us to receive.
And so, you know, I’ve had to ask the Lord for just that peace and that letting him take over. And, in the past couple of years, I would say, in the past year in particular, I’ve been experimenting in my preaching style and just letting the Lord give me more of the words that I want to share in his time, rather than be over preparing and I think part of it has been out of necessity. I’m so involved in so many different things, and I’m trying to do so many things in my life and ministry these days, that I’ve had to just by shear necessity, I’ve been forced by the Lord to, you know, just sometimes with the little bit of preparation come and preach before my own congregation or in other situations.
And you know, I’ve discovered with the passing of time that I believe, I believe that the Holy Spirit has been using me more, I’ve enjoyed the preaching more, I’ve been able to flow more in the particular teaching that God wants for a particular time and I feel more satisfied in a sense, and I think people have, sort of, re enforced in the belief that in that kind of resting more in the Lord there is a certain power. And you know, part of my resistance has been because I want to be responsible to the people that I’m preaching to and so I feel that I need to prepare, really well, and also because I’ve always resisted that pentecostal tendency to, kind of, sometimes fake it even when the Lord is not there, and to kind of name by another name what is really, or sometimes just a lack of responsibilities and proper planning and so on and so forth.
But of course there is a beautiful insight in this idea of allowing the Holy Spirit to take over us and to lead us as he will. I went through that kind of experience just this week, as a matter of fact. I’m being very autobiographical here for a moment, I hope it doesn’t bother any of you. I was asked to be the plenary speaker before the faculty of Gordon Connel Theological Seminary in their annual retreat.
Now, if there is something threatening to somebody like me, that would be it. You know, a Latino pastor coming before the entire faculty, including the president of a major seminary to talk about ministry in a multi cultural post modern world. Imagine that.
And, you know, I spent hours the evening before, I spent 3, 4 hours trying to get an approach as to how to tackle this exoteric subject and nothing really emerged. I mean, I could have faked it by coming up with some… or writing my speech, or…. I could have done that but somehow I didn’t feel the Lord leading me to do that kind of thing. And I’ve always tried to be honest and authentic with the Holy Spirit, even thought sometimes everything in my being is saying ‘take the easy way out’.
And so I said, ‘forget it’. It was like ten o’ clock, 10.30 at night, I was tired, had a long day and went to bed and said, tomorrow, you know, the Lord… I had to speak at 9 am and you know, I’ll just let the Lord hopefully tonight speak something to me. But of course I spent a very restless night and you know, and you know how nights can be many times. Your guard is down, your will is down and doubts come in, and the struggles come in. And so I spend a wavering night, you know, back and forth. I don’t easy sleep. Got up in the morning and still nothing came. I got a bit of like a nucleus of an idea and I said, ‘Lord, I’m going to go with that’.
So I presented myself before the faculty, it was Thursday morning and you know, I told them, I shared with them exactly what had taken place. And I said, I’m just going to share my journey, my ministerial journey in the past twenty some years, what God has done and hopefully we can extract some illustrations from that for applying it to how can we train young men and women for ministry in an urban context and so own.
Well, for God’s glory, you know, I who thought that didn’t have any material ended up cutting all kinds of things because a huge amount of stuff came out of my spirit and I was able to share, I think, very effectively. And for the glory of God they were edified and they affirmed me in the blessing that they had received.
I say that not to make that result stand out in your mind, but really the other part which is that we have a God who, if we choose to rest in him, and for me, and I don’t know many of you, the struggle sometimes in life is to rest in God’s grace, to rest in his provision, to center myself in him.
I have found that if I succeed in centering my consciousness, my heart, my psyche, my emotions in God, in the Holy Spirit and I click, I feel that that steel joint, kind of merge with God’s and there’s that sort of coming together of the two: my will and God’s provision, I am set. And when I feel that I can rest in the Lord actively and I can rest in his grace, in his provision, then you know, I can flow very well and God does the work.
I can mention that many, many times in my life. This stage in my life, in ministry, my goal is to find rest in the Lord. And often I go back to Isaiah, chapter 30, verse 15 which is a beautiful, beautiful verse that God has given me these days, and that I am continually dwelling on and trying to learn to do.
It says: “…this is what the sovereign Lord, the holy one of Israel says, in repentance and rest I your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”, and then he says “… but you have none of it….”
He’s speaking to the Israelites, there’s a long story behind that but I want to focus on that idea of rest being the source of our salvation, and quietness and trust being the source of our strength.
And you know, how the Lord asks us time and time again to learn to rest in his grace and his provision. And I believe that the Lord put that in my heart, just as I was sitting there because I was speaking to many of us who have a desire to see God’s glory manifested. Many of you, for example, who are coming from Jahob, you know, you are here from other places, from faraway places. We want to see God’s glory, we want to see something major happen, we want to see salvation come to America. We want to see an overturning of the forces of evil, we want to see revival, we want to see churches raised for God and God’s people revived.
And if you, like me, I waver, I was just last week in a meeting, a regional meeting of intercessors and Bethany was there, and she can tell you, you know, the expressions, the open honest expressions of discouragement many times among those of us who work in the ministry of restoration and revival. And you know, many of these people are doing great things and you know, you would look at them from afar, probably in our regions people say ‘yeah, this person’s really, you know, doing things for the Lord, and they seem to be on fire, and they have no doubts about whether God is going to do it or not’.
Well, I want to tell you that that’s not true. It is always, and it always has been a journey of faith. And faith is, when you’re agonizing and in doubt, and yet you still choose to declare God’s declared word, his good intentions, his good will, his faithfulness. Faith is not just believing without any doubts and kind of proceeding smoothly through the path of a ministry and service. It is many times being beset by huge doubts about yourself, about you think God said, even what he says in his word. And waiting and waiting and thinking, ‘is God going to do it?’ ‘Is it going to happen?’ ‘Did I make a fool of myself by declaring something the other day?’ ‘Did I make a fool of myself by undertaking something and how do I get out it?’.
All these things, when you’re in ministry and when you’re in any kind of visionary work in life, these things will come to you. And I think if we could go through the biography of any of those great men and women of God that have been used greatly, even in Scripture, where only we get brief summaries of what must have been long difficult, complex journeys, you will find that same kind of struggle, of doubt and belief, and questioning and you know, affirming. And out of that struggle, that agony God is glorified because it were just the one long uninterrupted, smooth path then it wouldn’t be a journey of faith.
The journey of faith is that which continues despite the doubt, despite your flesh and somehow you need to divide yourself and even as you doubt and agonize you have to retain that higher faculty that says, ‘no, I still believe that my Lord is faithful’.
This is what Job experienced, I think. When everything around him seemed to deny in a graphic, violent sort of way, that God was who he said he was, and he said ‘I still, even if he kills me, I will still believe in him’. You know, Job’s journey wasn’t as we sometimes think, all the great man of faith. It was a journey of doubt and questioning and so on.
And this is what I see, you know, what connects this passage with all that I’m saying to you here, it’s this idea. “It is by grace you have been saved”. You know, the Apostle Paul has just been discussing the deep, deep sinfulness that we’re in before God intervened. I mean, we were so in the depths of sinfulness, in our sins, our transgressions, our mind clouded by sin and you know, we were absolutely incapable of calling out to God, ‘save me’.
And he says, in that moment, in verse 4 he says “… because of his great love for us God who was rich in mercy made us alive with Christ”.
The whole thrust of that passage and of, I think, of all of Ephesians is this idea that God is the protagonist in the whole drama of salvation. I mean, we react, yes to God’s initiative and action, but he is the one who is in charge. And not only is he the one who is enacting the whole drama of salvation and writing the scripts, so to speak, but also he is doing it for his glory.
So, the beginning is God and the object is God also. So I mean, at the beginning and at the end is God, in the middle somewhere we are characters in his drama. And we are playing things, and by that I don’t mean that we’re kind of, you know, sort of slaves of God’s will. No, I think somewhere in God’s complex way of doing things, that we cannot figure out rationally, there is space for human freedom.
I am not sort of Calvinist in the deep sense of the word, I do believe that human freedom is always there in very powerful ways. I don’t go to the extreme of saying you know, we just, you may have your theology which I respect, but personally I do believe that there is space for us to deny, or even to withdraw after we have entered into that drama of God and that doesn’t make God’s power or sovereignty any less. But somehow salvation is made up of the two: our will, our freedom and also God’s extreme sovereignty.
But the important thing is that Paul wants to emphasize all throughout this idea of this powerful God that is carrying out this drama that he has conceived from the beginning of eternity and that he is carrying out for his glory, for his purposes and we are in to it.
And that should give us, right there the beginning of that ability to rest. It’s not about you and it’s not about me. You know, Massachusetts is not going to be saved or lost because somehow, you know, what we do or not do. God is going to do what he will do. You know, no matter what laws are enacted, no matter what happens in the short term, the Bible says for example, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church.
I also do not think that this world is going to end up in one big atomic explosion or anything like that, but I know that the basic themes, the basic lines of the drama, have already been scripted out by God. And so, you know, we struggle and we have to make all kinds of efforts and you know, we do church plans and we raise churches, and we undertake all kinds of projects like a covenant for New England and all kinds of other things that many of us are involved, Jahob and so on, but within those actions that we initiate and that we are trying to carry out for the glory of God, we must always remember that there’s a macro level to all of that which is God in control, God carrying things out. And that should give us a sense of release and trust in the Lord because our only part is to do what we can. We cannot second guess God and say ‘oh, just be he has determined that he’s going to do certain things, I’m going to be totally passive’. No, in the world as I walk through the world in time and space, I must proceed as if it depends on me.
Somebody has said that we must work as if everything depends on, what is it, on God. I don’t know, the idea is that there’s one part of us works as if everything depends on us and another part should work as if everything depends on God, and we’re kind of schizophrenic in that sense, we’re kind of divided.
But we need to learn how to do that. You know, I have to work passionately in my life. I have to undertake things with great passion and I should be restless about the Kingdom of God. I should work in any kind of thing that I can do. I must be active. I must be occupied, as the Bible says, in the things of the kingdom, but at another level, in another side of me, because of that mystery of where eternity joins time and space, and where God’s sovereignty joins human freedom, since I cannot resolve that basic dilemma I have to simply make sure that in the realm of time and space and in every day of my life I work as hard as I can for the Kingdom of God.
And even in the secular realm, if I have a profession, or if I have a career that I want to follow, or a marriage that I want to make succeed, or whatever it is, I must work very hard and I must do my part. I must study the right principles, I must work with the excellence that is required. I must master the skills and the disciplines that I need for my profession and my career and I cannot free myself from that obligation.
But on another side when everything is said and done I also have to cultivate this capacity to just rest in the Lord. And when anxiety is threatening to take over me, I have to say ‘No, Father, I know that there’s one dimension of my life, my existence in this mysterious universe that depends on you. It’s all about you. And my life is not dependent on me, the success of my life, my happiness, is not dependant on you, it is on you, dependant on you. I can only work, I can invest, I can make all kind of symbolic actions, but in the end the one who imparts meaning and coherence to everything that I am doing is you and I choose to rest in that knowledge. I choose to rest in that affirmation of your word’, because that’s what God’s word says from Genesis to Revelation.
So, you know, what Paul is saying here, you know, you could not save yourselves, it is by grace you have been saved. God raised you up, he seated you in the heavenly realms, he imparted life to you when you were dead, and it is by grace that you have been saved. Twice he says that. And this is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.
Again, you know, that’s the whole thing. You know, your acceptance by God, your approval by God is not based on how much you do for him, how much you agonize for him, I mean, we are already as you know well, we are accepted by God, we are approved, we are loved by God and what, I think the Apostle Paul has been trying, time and time again, through his writings to do is to set the proper sequence in place, which is I do not work so that the more that I do and the more actions that I carry out, God can say, ‘ok, yeah, you’ve done enough for today now. Yeah, I guess you can sleep for a couple of hours.’
No, it is the idea, Father, you are so loving, you are so accepting, you are so gracious, you have blessed me, you have approved of me, you have sealed me with your grace and your love, and now I feel such gratitude, as a matter of fact I feel such energy emerging from my spirit as a result of the fact that I know that it’s not dependant on me, and I don’t have to be so exhausted by this thing of trying to approve you, or rather to be approved of you being so perfect and so inherently demanding, that I have extra energy, and I love you so much, and I am so grateful to you and I am so in awe of your incredible mercy that I’m going to work to support the purposes of your kingdom. I am going to work to bless you and to show you my love and my gratitude.
So, you see, we have to work out of that kind of recognition. It is not, you know, the kind of compulsive working for God to approve me, or rather it is because he has approved me, I work and I do the things that he wants me to do and I do it without any sense of entitlement, you know, that ‘oh, how good I am and God is allowing me, God has called me to the ministry because I’m so… I have such integrity or… No, it’s the very contrary. The more you serve the Lord, you realize that the more disqualified you truly are.
I can tell you by my experience that it is so true, when Jesus said, you know, when you have done all that is required of you, you are unworthy servants. And you know, truly as you progress in ministry and in life you discover that more and more. If you are overcome by the relation of God’s word, you do realize that more and more that you know, the more you do in the kingdom, the more you realize that it’s totally by God’s grace, God’s incredible tolerance for our incompetence. And that we cannot boast at all, we are more actually overcome more and more by God’s incredible mercy and forced to bow at his feet.
The more we try to help God it’s like, as I say that the image of an insect entangled in the web of a spider. The more we try to do for God, the more entangled we become in our own worthiness, our inability to do anything that’s really useful and lasting for God. And what do we do with that knowledge? Do we become mired in guilt or do we say Lord, and we laugh and say ‘yeah, of course you said it before? When you’ve done all that you could do, you’re still unworthy servants and then we relax. And that frees us from guilt, that frees us from condemnation and that’s what Paul also has said before that, you know, there’s no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ.
You know, so in that idea of God’s grace working in all these ways, not by words, verse 9, so that no one can boast, for we are God’s workmanship.
You see, that’s the whole thing. You are a drama, you are a painting, you are a statue, a narrative that God is working out. He is in control, even as you life your life fully, freely, authentically, even as you struggle, even as you do all kinds of things, know that there is what you know, literary theories would call a meta narrative; a narrative that goes beyond the immediate narrative.
That meta narrative, the overarching narrative is in God’s hands and you are simply participating in that. And that should give you freedom and peace and rest. We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works.
You know, God has called you into the kingdom you see, because it’s not talking about created in the generic sense of the entire human race. No, when you come into the Kingdom of God, when you become a believer, you are equipped, you are given a new genetic composition , a new identity, a new psyche almost if you will, that is programmed in a sense to do good works. You have it in you, we have it in us. I mean, if we can only learn to let the spirit flow in us and use us we will do good works. I mean, it will emerge. I think the thing is for us to merge our conscious with God’s will, let him speak to us, let him guide us, let him have his way in us and naturally the good work will emerge out of that, instead of striving.
You know, every time we strive and we do, we try to do more than we can do and we posture, and we make all kinds of agonizing efforts and we go here and there, and you know, always trying to cover this compulsive need to make ourselves useful. And God is saying ‘relax, I have programmed you to do good works, you will do them. It will happen.’
God prepared in advance these works for us to do. Now, I don’t know how specific the Apostle Paul was, illuminated by the Holy Spirit when he says that God prepared in advance certain good works for us to do. Does that mean that you know, even the little, the minute things that we do every day, already God knew about it? I mean, down to you know, whether you decided to give that tract or to speak to that person sitting next to you, or to train or is he speaking about just in general, the general flow of the church throughout history?
I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think anybody can truly answer that completely. We will know one day when those problems are resolved. Philosophers and theologians have been trying to resolve these issues for ever and ever and they haven’t really arrived at a consensus. But I do know, what the Bible says, that there is one dimension, a very powerful dimension, actually the controlling dimension of my life, my ministry, my drama, that is in the hands of the Lord. And I can rest in that. You can rest in it.
You know, I finish with I wish I had a little more time… yes, please guys, you can come up and…. The story in Zachariah and if you have time read it tonight or tomorrow, Zachariah, chapter 4, which is another passage that God has been speaking to me very strongly about lately. In chapter 4 the drama of Zerubabel and in chapter 3 even, chapter 3 is even better. Chapters 3 and 4 are very related to this. In this case Joshua and Zerubabel, these are two characters in this drama that are very….
You know, these were men that had a very big, big assignment to rebuild the temple in the middle of a nation that was falling and demoralized and trying to get itself back up after years and years of destruction and there in verse 1, chapter 3, it says “…. There he showed me Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the Lord and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, ‘the Lord rebuke you, Satan. The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you, is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”
“Now, Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel and the angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘take off his filthy clothes’. Then he said to Joshua ‘See, I have taken away your sin and I will put rich garments on you.’ Then I said put a clean turban on his head. So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him while the angel of the Lord stood by.”
You know, this could have been placed, this is a story that could have been placed in the Nuevo Testament, but no, it’s in the Old Testament. This idea of somebody who is unworthy, actually mired in sin for some reason this high priest was not worthy of God putting him in that position and Satan is there to accuse him, just as he does through our conscience many times and we have doubts about our ministries and you know, whether God will use me or not and so on and so forth.
And you know, we could be paralyzed by that sense of unworthiness and God says ‘no, do not forbid, do not prevent him or her from serving in my court, serving in my kingdom. On the contrary, put garments of holiness and a crown of authority and of power on them. It is not by… what I deserve, it’s not by my actions, it’s not by anything that I can do or not do, it’s not by my worthiness that God will use me or you. It’s not by our actions that you know, Boston will be won to the kingdom, or America.
Yes, we must work, we must pray, we must prevail, we must clamor but let’s make sure that it is done in the spirit, not in the flesh, not in anxiety and I pray for you and for myself tonight a spirit of rest in the Lord and that out of that rest we can find extra energy, resting in the grace of God, resting in the approval of God, resting in the control of God over all of history and that somehow he delights himself in allowing to be a part of his drama. He uses us but he has the basic script, he has written it out, and we are simply entering into it.
So, your life is in God’s hands, the script of your life is in God’s hands. Rest in him. Work hard. Make every effort in your life. Live a successful life and an entrepreneurial life but know that God is in control. Not you, not me. God is in control.
And so, Father we choose to rest right now, militantly, actively in you. Father, we lay aside anxiety. We lay aside false works and fear of the future and excessive control. Father help us to rest in you. Help us to trust in you. You are a God of grace. You have called us, you have accepted us, you have empowered us. You have infused us with your gifts and now Lord, let us find the ability to put our heads against your powerful chest, your fatherly bosom and trust in you.
Our spirits are resting right now in your powerful hands, and we look to the future with great expectations of seeing your glory. We want to give you all the glory. Father, thank you for showing us how useless we truly are and how much in control, how untouchable you are. I pray for a spirit of peace and rest tonight for my brothers and sisters who are here. Whatever struggles we may be facing, whatever accusations from the enemy, whatever interference from the dark realm may be trying to weaken us, we reject it and we embrace your peace tonight. And we proclaim your will being done on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus’ name. Amen and amen.