New Creations (Ephesians 4:17-24)

Can people really change? Can a habitual liar become an honest and trustworthy person? Can an ill-tempered hothead become a man or woman of peace? Can a lazy, greedy fool become someone who works hard and gives to others? Can a cussing gossiper become a clean-speaking encourager? Can a bitter, unhappy, grudge-holding man or woman become a gentle, kind, and forgiving friend? YES! By the power of the Holy Spirit and faith in the Son of God, sinful people really can change into the holy men and women that God wants them to be. Jesus Christ really can change us into His likeness from the inside out – this is the very heart of the Gospel message. We truly can become new creations!

In today’s passage, the apostle Paul urges us to live like the new people of God that we have already become by our saving faith in Jesus Christ. Lost people (“the rest of the Gentiles” – verse 17) can’t help sinning. They walk in darkness and lack the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit inside them. The lost person’s mind is blinded by spiritual ignorance and his heart is hardened by sin and selfishness. The unbeliever is a prisoner of and slave to her sinful thoughts, desires, and attitudes. As Paul described in Ephesians 2:1-3, the person without Christ is literally “dead in sin.” But if you have truly been born again by God’s Holy Spirit, you are no longer dead – you are alive in Christ! Now you have a new, Christlike nature on the inside to help you overcome sin and starting thinking and acting like Jesus! And the equally awesome truth is that the new heart that God has given you really wants to live like Jesus. Before you did not really want to change – deep down you loved your sin more than God. But now that new “Jesus on the inside” nature hates sin the way that God does and loves what is good and holy. The old, sinful nature is still inside you, but you don’t have to obey it anymore. By learning how to abide in Christ and walk with Him in faith, you really can live like the new creation that God has already declared you to be. The rest of Ephesians is going to paint us a more detailed picture of what that new life will look like. May we all “put on the new man” (verse 24) today and every day!

The Text (Ephesians 4:17-24)

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Questions to Think About

  1. When did you become a “new creation”? In other words, when did you first begin to experience the power of Jesus Christ on the inside giving you hatred for and victory over your sins?
  2. How can reminding yourself that you are a new creation help you right now in your struggles against sin?

Notes

  • Verses 17-19 should make us weep. When we read about the desperate and helpless condition of people without Christ, we should weep with joy and thankfulness that God has saved us from the tragic state of having been separated from Him by our sinfulness. At the same time, we should weep with sorrow and compassion over the lostness of our unsaved family, friends, classmates, and travel team coaches and teammates. And we should pray and pray hard, giving thanks for own salvation and pleading with God for the salvation of the lost people whom He has placed in our lives.
  • Verse 23 is short but very important. It is saying the same thing as Romans 12:2 – that to really change you need to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The battle for our spiritual growth is fought and either won or lost in our minds and hearts. That’s why we need to read God’s Word slowly and carefully each day. We need to listen to Christian music, pray, and spend time in uplifting conversation with other growing Christians every day. And we need to do these things honestly with a humble desire to meet with Jesus and do what He says. Our minds and hearts control our words and actions. If we put on Christ’s new nature that is already inside us while putting off the old, sinful thoughts and desires, we really will be changed into His likeness from the inside out.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Serving and Growing Up Together (Ephesians 4:7-16)

God gives Christians gifts so that we can use them. He wants us to learn what our spiritual gifts are. He wants us to learn how to use these gifts in serving the rest of the body of Christ and being a witness about Christ to the outside world. Some Christians are given the job of preaching and teaching the Word. Pastors and other leaders are given to the church to build up the faith of other believers and help them grow into Christian maturity. But the preachers and teachers are also supposed to equip their congregations to find, develop, and use their own spiritual gifts. Many of these gifts are described in other passages of Scripture. Romans 12:6-8 mentions prophecy, serving, exhortation (encouragement), giving, leadership, and mercy. 1 Corinthians adds faith, healing, miracles, discernment (understanding spiritual matters, especially regarding motives and decisions), and the interpretation of speaking in tongues. While some Christians believe that some gifts like healing and miracles are no longer used in most churches today, all Christians agree that many of these gifts are still found among God’s people. Also, many Christians think that there are other gifts and talents (like music) that are not specifically mentioned in the New Testament but are still abilities that can be used for serving the body and bringing God glory. The main point of verses 7-12 of today’s passage is that there are no bystanders in biblical Christianity – all the members of Christ’s body have talents and gifts that God expects them to joyfully use in His service.

In verses 13-16, Paul explains one of the major purposes of our gifts – helping each other grow in our relationships with Christ. God does not want His disciples to wander like sheep and to be tossed about like tiny ships on a vast ocean by all of the false teachings of this world. God wants all Christians to be active members of local churches. He wants us with God’s people at least once week, hearing the truths of the Bible taught, explained, and applied to our lives. He wants us in strong relationships with other Christians where we can serve each other with our different gifts and thus become mature believers. As a Christian school, we provide a loving community for students to hear the gospel and live out their Christian faith. But NRCA is not a local church. We are not covenanted together as a body of believers who hold each other accountable the way that a local church does. We provide opportunities for students to grow in their relationships with Christ, including hearing biblical teaching and finding and using their spiritual gifts. But parents do not attend school here and participate in those spiritual activities – only their children do. Today’s passages is talking about families, parents and children, serving and growing together in local church settings. For this reason, we strongly encourage all of our students to learn to serve and grow up as Christians in their local churches with their families, with our school providing an environment that supports parents and churches but does not replace them.

The Text (Ephesians 4:7-16)

7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore He says:

“When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.”

9 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Questions to Think About

  1. Have you discovered your spiritual gifts? If not, this is something your pastors and other mature Christian leaders in your church can help you with. God wants us to know our gifts, which include things that we enjoy and are good at. You might also ask one of your church leaders or your Bible teacher about a spiritual gift inventory (quiz) like this: Spiritual Gifts Test
  2. Are you using your spiritual gifts in your church right now? Why or why not?
  3. Do you want to become a mature Christian? What needs to happen in your life right now for you to keep growing in your relationship with Christ?

Notes

  • Ephesians 4:7-9 is a paraphrase of Psalm 68:17-18, which describes the carrying of the Ark of the Covenant to the top of a mountain in celebration of God’s victory over His enemies. In today’s passage, Paul applies the imagery to Christ’s triumph over sin and death and Satan when He died on the cross and then rose from the dead. He rescued Christians from being “captives” or slaves to sin, death, and Satan and then gave us spiritual gifts to use for His glory.
  • Notice in verses 13-16 that as Christians mature together spiritually, they become more unified as the body of Christ. Healthy churches and Christian schools will be full of believers who are both strong in personal faith and godliness and close together in the loving fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual maturity and unity are our goals for NRCA and our community’s churches.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Stay Humble, Stick Together (Ephesians 4:1-6)

The key to unity is humility. When we are proud and self-centered, we have conflict in our homes, churches, and school. But when we put God and others before ourselves, we find peace. When God saves people, His Holy Spirit convicts them of sin and gives them repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. They turn from living for themselves to living for God by the power of the Holy Spirit inside them. This holy “calling” from God brings Christians from death to life, from darkness to light. The Spirit gives us the power “walk worthy” of our new identity in Christ, and the first sign of our new walk is humility before God and each other. As we learn to fix our minds and hearts on Jesus each day through Bible reading, prayer, and obedient faith, we find that we really love other Christians. We learn to bear with other believers’ shortcomings and sins because our walk with Christ keeps us aware of our own faults and how often we need God’s forgiveness and grace in our own lives.

Of course we fail and mess up. Every day, we have moments and maybe long stretches of time where our old sin natures can rise up and we take our eyes off Jesus. Remember that Ephesians is written to Christians, so the fact that Paul is encouraging believers to stay humble and unified is proof that we can lose our way and slide back into pride and selfish fighting. But whenever we realize that has happened, the Holy Spirit inside us will bring conviction; we feel that gnawing sense of guilt that our sin has hurt our relationships with God and others. What do we do? We repent and trust in the Lord! We confess our sin to the Lord, who is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), and we apologize to those whom we’ve hurt. It might be painful, but repentance (turning away from sin) and faith (turning to God) is the only way to bring true healing and peace to broken relationships, including restoring our fellowship with God. When we are right with God again, we return to joyfully loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. We remember that we are all part of the same body of Christ, that we all serve the same Father by the power of the same Holy Spirit, and that we were all baptized in the name of the same Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior forever. May the Lord keep us humble and together through our shared faith in Him.

The Text (Ephesians 4:1-6)

1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Questions to Think About

  1. What evidences of humility can you see in your life since becoming a Christian or rededicating your life to Christ?
  2. How can your family, friends, and teachers help you in your struggles with pride and selfishness?
  3. Why do think that unity is so important for Christian communities like our churches and NRCA?

Notes

  • The word “calling” in verses 1 and 4 is used a lot in Paul’s letters to the churches. In almost all of these uses, the apostle is talking about the action where God first brought the gospel home to our hearts so that we could feel guilt over our sin, repent, and turn to Him for salvation. He “called” our hearts and we answered by surrendering our lives to Jesus. Before our salvation, we may have “heard” the general call of the gospel being preached in church, Bible class, or chapel, but it did not have an effect on our souls until that day when the light bulb went off and we first realized – “I am a lost and sinful person who desperately needs Jesus!” Once that effectual calling took place (i.e. the gospel finally had an “effect” on us), we woke up and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ with out hearts and not just our heads. We came to life spiritually and our walks with Christ began!
  • With chapter 4, we now begin the exhortation or application half of the book of Ephesians. As with Paul’s other New Testament letters, the first part of the book has told us what to believe and now the second part tells us how to live based on those biblical truths about God and our relationship with Him. Everything we will read in Ephesians 4, 5, and 6 will be based on the foundation of who we are in Christ that has been laid in chapters 1, 2, and 3. If during the rest of our study you find yourself getting discouraged by all the commands and challenges, stop and go back to the earlier chapters of Ephesians to remember who you are and what God has already done for you in Christ. Let who you are help you with how you live.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Do We Believe? (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Do we believe in the power of God? Do we believe that the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead can raise us out of our spiritual death into a new, resurrected, and holy way of life? Do we believe that the God who freed His people from slavery in Egypt is able to break the chains of slavery to sin that daily choke out our joy and crush our souls? Do we believe that God is able to work great things in our lives as His Word promises? Is God able, or isn’t He? What do we believe?

In today’s brief passage (just two verses), Paul closes out the first half of his letter to the first century church (and us!) with a strong doxology, or short hymn of praise to God. In chapters 1-3, the apostle has passionately told his believing audience all about who they really are in Christ (blessed, chosen, loved, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, sealed, and spiritually alive!), praying that they would understand and take hold of these promises by faith. In chapters 4-6, Paul will describe how Christians’ new lives in Christ should look based on their new identities as God’s workmanship. To make this logical transition, Paul pauses to direct our attention to the power of God “to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Paul believed with all his being that God could transform our lives into the image of God’s Son. He believed that God could answer our prayers for the salvation of lost loved ones and our own growth in Christ. Do we share that faith? Do we believe this day that God is able to empower us to live like Jesus, not just once in awhile but every day? Can the Lord change our school into a place where the love of Christ can be seen in all of our hallways and classrooms every day? Do we believe that God is able? May we stay on our knees before God until we do.

The Text (Ephesians 3:20-21)

20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Questions to Think About

  1. Do you pray? Do you believe that God hears and answers your prayers? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think that our faith is something that can grow or not? If our faith can grow, how does that happen?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Filled with His Fullness (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Like all good pastors and missionaries, the apostle Paul loved Christ’s church. He labored and loved and prayed with all that he had to see Christ formed in God’s people. All Paul wanted was to see every Christian experience the same kind of passionate, personal walk with Jesus that he had been blessed to enjoy. As we see again in today’s passage, Paul was constantly talking about God’s great love for His adopted sons and daughters, praying on his knees that they would truly understand that love with their minds and hearts and feel the strength of it in their souls every day. It surely distressed and burdened Paul whenever he heard of Christians not living in the joy of the Lord, not walking by faith in the Spirit, returning to their old lives of worry and doubt, of sin and selfishness. Paul’s heart was burdened by the very same thing that burdened His Heavenly Father’s heart – the spiritual condition of Christ’s church. Inside Paul there ever burned a fire to see Christ’s people be all that they could be in Him, that they would really be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).

Your pastors, Bible study leaders, teachers, and many of your parents feel this same spiritual burden for you. As a Christian school, we desire to help your families and churches to train you up in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. We do not want you to wander through your years at NRCA and beyond being tossed about by the lies of this world and Satan, but to truly become “rooted and grounded in love” and to really “be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:17,16). Developing a strong, joy-filled, consistent walk with Jesus as a teenager today is definitely difficult, but with God’s help it IS POSSIBLE! We are witnessing testimonies of this among your classmates, and we are believing God that all of you can be filled with God’s fullness if you really want it. If you are willing to obey the Lord in faith, to put in the time to chase hard after God and let Him work in your life, you can enjoy the spiritual power and joy of the abundant life that Jesus wants for you. May God give you His love, strength, and fullness today!

The Text (Ephesians 3:14-19)

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Questions to Think About

  1. Have you ever experienced times where you felt “filled with all the fullness of God?” Do you want that kind of spiritual strength in your everyday life? What might be holding you back right now from enjoying an abundant and joy-filled Christian life?
  2. Think about your friends and classmates. Which ones seem to be “rooted and grounded” in the love of Jesus, and which ones seem to be always drowning in the muck of sin and worldliness? What do you think causes students in the same Christian school, exposed to the same daily spiritual opportunities and challenges, to be so different in their words, actions, thoughts, and desires? How can you truly be part of the group that follows hard after God?

Notes

  • We should take Paul’s words in verse 14 about bowing his knees before God literally. If an aging, imprisoned, beat down man like Paul could get on his knees before God, certainly most of us as students and teachers can find times to get down on our knees and even our faces before the Lord in prayer. The kneeling or prostrate posture communicates humility and submission before God and total dependence on Christ in a very powerful way, not just to others but to our own hearts. Try getting physically low before God in prayer this week and see what happens!
  • The reference in verse 15 to “the whole family in heaven and earth” would include believers alive on earth, believers alive in heaven with the Lord, and possibly also the whole angelic host. Christians and angels alike bow their knees before the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name is right now honored by all in heaven and by some on earth. One day, though, ALL of the earth and hell will bow their knees before that name which is above every name, some people and spirits in joyous victory, and others in reluctant defeat (check out Philippians 2:9-11).

In Christ,

Mr. Reel