Ephesians 1

Read Ephesians 1.

When we left Paul yesterday in Acts 28, he was living in his own rented home and waiting for two years for his trial in Rome. During this house arrest, Paul wrote his “prison epistles”–Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon–so this seems like an appropriate point for us to read them.

As we read the book of Acts, we saw that Paul spent two years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10) on his third missionary journey. At the end of that journey, as Paul traveled to Jerusalem, Paul stopped in Miletus and called for the elders from the Ephesian church to come meet with him (Acts 20:17-38). I’m bringing all this up to remind you that Paul had a very personal interest and relationship with this particular church. This is why he wrote one of his prison letters to them while in Rome awaiting trial.

The mood of this chapter, Ephesians 1, is ebullient; it overflows with praise for God’s love and blessings (vv. 3-14) and thanks for the faith of the Ephesians (vv. 15-23). Although there are many truths in this chapter on which we could meditate, let’s focus on verse 13b-14, “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

God has promised so much in Christ, but how do we know that those promises apply to us? According to verse 13b, we know they are for us because the Holy Spirit seals us. The seal of the Holy Spirit is a way to describe God’s ownership. The Spirit tells us that we belong to Christ. As we see the fruit of the Spirit growing and developing in our lives, it reassures us that we belong to Christ.

The Holy Spirit is more than our seal, though, according to this verse. He is also, “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance….” This means that the joy he brings us in Christ, the love that we have for other believers and that they have for us, and all the other benefits the Spirit gives us are reminders of what eternity will be like.

Think of the greatest worship service you’ve ever experienced, the kind where each song drew your heart closer to God and the message filled you with awe and love for God.

I’m talking about the kind of service that made you feel sad when it ended but also made you feel excited to read the word and serve God while singing his praises. That is what eternity with Jesus will be like! The Spirit’s blessing on us as our seal is a deposit, reassuring you that you will be there to experience that eternity and giving you a preview of what it will be like.

If the Spirit is the deposit, the down payment of these good things, then when do we get the whole package of good things?

According to verse 14 it will be at “the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” “The redemption of those who are God’s possession” is a reference to the return of Christ. At that time, Christ will select everyone who has the Spirit–the seal of his ownership–and he will finish his work of redemption by glorifying our bodies and sanctifying our hearts and minds fully. Then he will welcome us into the worship service that never ends.

You have the Holy Spirit to remind you of all that is coming for us in Christ in eternity. So be encouraged no matter what happens today and walk in the Spirit obediently as a child of God.

2 Corinthians 3

Read 2 Corinthians 3.

Why is it that when people hear the gospel or read the Bible, some believe but others are unmoved, unchanged? How can someone study the Bible for years without coming to believe that Jesus is the Christ and that he died on behalf of sinners? How can a devout Jewish person read Isaiah 53 without falling to his knees to confess Christ, calling on God to save him?

The answer to these questions is here in 2 Corinthians 3: 14-16: “But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

Anyone who knows how to read can read and interpret the Bible properly, but not everyone can believe what the Bible says.

Here in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul tells us that this is because we are blind, by nature, to God’s truth in Christ. The reason why people don’t see him in the Bible and come to trust in him is that “a veil covers their hearts” (v. 15). Only the work of the Spirit of God (v. 17) can welcome Jesus and believe the Bible when they encounter his truth.

Then, once we’ve come to know Christ by faith, we can study the Bible’s depiction of Christ clearly without the veil of unbelief over our eyes (vv. 17-18).

This is how we should pray for unbelievers that we’re witnessing to–that God’s spirit would open their spiritual eyes to see the light of Christ in the gospel. It is also why salvation does not depend on how good your presentation skills are or how perfect your arguments for Christianity may be.

Salvation is a spiritual act; it requires the work of God’s Holy Spirit. So ask for the Spirit’s help when you witness, the Spirit’s illumination, conviction of sin, and regeneration in the hearts of those to whom you witness.

1 Corinthians 2

Read 1 Corinthians 2.

In this chapter, Paul explained to the Corinthians his approach to ministry. That approach was to rely on the message of Christ (v. 2) and the power of God’s Spirit (v. 4).

Verses 14-15 described the differences between those who have God’s Holy Spirit and those who do not. Unbelievers―those who don’t have the Spirit―cannot welcome God’s truth because God’s truth is spiritual by nature.

Sometimes verse 14 is interpreted to mean that unbelievers cannot understand God’s word. That is not the point of the passage, however. The point of the passage is that an unbeliever is unable to believe, to welcome, to “accept the things that come from the Spirit of God” (v. 14).

Unbelievers may understand every fact of the Gospel or every doctrine of the Christian faith or they may not, but either way an unbeliever can only believe God’s truth if God’s Spirit is within.

This is why our outreach to unbelievers should consist of the pure gospel of Christ rather than persuasive techniques, convincing arguments, or powerful entertainment. Those might bring some genuine conversions–if there is any gospel at all in them–but they will also bring many false professions.

Only the Holy Spirit’s power can change a person’s will so that that person will welcome Jesus Christ and put his or her faith in him. So stick to the gospel message and pray for God to save through his Spirit.

That is the righteous approach to evangelism.

Galatians 6

Read Galatians 6.

Here in Galatians 6, Paul begins to describe what “walking in the Spirit” (5:16) looks like. One who walks in the Spirit will:

  • do what he or she can to gently restore a sinning brother (vv. 1-2).
  • live in humility (vv. 3-4)
  • will support his or her teacher financially (v. 6).

Verses 7-10 explain why we should do these things. Paul cites the law of the farm, reminding us that if we sow corn, we’ll reap corn. If we sow soy beans, we’ll reap soy beans. Similarly, in our spiritual life, we will reap what we sow.

We have the help and power of the Spirit of God. He leads us away from a sinful life and develops in us the fruit of the Spirit (5:16-26). But these results are not automatic. As believers we have the power and leadership of the spirit to become holy but those things are activated in our lives by obedience to Christ and his word.

When we disobey God’s word, we are sowing sinful seeds in our life and, if they are not uprooted, they will produce what sin produces—pain, death, destruction (v. 8a). When we obey God’s word we are sowing spiritual seeds in our life and those seeds will produce what the Spirit produces—eternal life (v. 8).

But growth takes patience. Sowing sinful seeds give us the immediate satisfaction that sin offers, the dopamine hit of pleasure that the sin nature craves. But we usually fail to realize that a destructive plant is being nurtured as well. One act of sin can be destructive, but usually is simply pleasurable. When we repeat this disobedience, we are sowing a crop of evil that will eventually emerge from the ground, grow to maturity, and destroy us. That is the unseen growth that sin brings in our life that we usually ignore because we love the initial burst of pleasure that sin provides.

Likewise, growth in the Spirit takes time. One day’s Bible reading, one season of deep worship and intercessory prayer, one day of serving the Lord in our church, one week’s tithe—none of these things produces an immediate tree of holiness. But, when we repeat these activities because we love God and are following the desires of the Spirit and obeying God’s word, over time these yield holiness in our lives.

As you read the scriptures thoughtfully each day in this Bible reading-program, you are sowing the seeds of God’s word in your life. Keep going, keep reading, keep thinking about these truths and how they apply to your life. Growth takes time and fruit doesn’t show up immediately, but the promise of God’s word is that the Spirit works in us and through as we follow him in obedience.

Maybe as you’ve thought about this, the Spirit has convicted you of some sinful practice you’ve been cultivating in your life. Repent and remove it now before it starts bearing fruit in your life. Maybe He has convicted you that you’re neglecting some area of the Christian life. The time has come to start sowing seeds of righteousness in that area.

Do it! Remember: “…at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (v. 9b).

Exodus 7, Job 24, Psalm 55

Today’s readings are Exodus 7, Jobs 24, and Psalm 55.

This devotional is about Exodus 7.

In verse 3, God said, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.”

In verses 13 and 22 the Bible says, “Pharaoh’s heart became hard.”

Only spiritual stubbornness would allow a man to see God’s miraculous works over and over again without believing his messengers and letting his people go. In verse 5 God said that “the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” It is amazing, isn’t it, that they didn’t know that he is the Lord long before that. The staff-to-snake miracle (vv. 8-12) and the Nile-to-blood miracle (vv. 14-22) seem to me like very convincing proofs. Yet Pharaoh would not let God’s people go. Why? Because God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (v. 3) and because his heart became hard(er) (vv. 13, 23).

When God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart, he did not “create fresh evil” (as one of my seminar professors used to say) in Pharaoh’s heart. Instead, he allowed Pharaoh to deny the implications of what he had seen and refuse to believe that God’s hand was behind these miracles. We see that in verse 14: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go.’” The word “unyielding” helps us understand what was happening in Pharaoh’s heart in this chapter. God was showing him many convincing proofs but he would not yield to those proofs by admitting that the Hebrews God was real and more powerful than he was. So when God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart, he allowed Pharaoh to choose unbelief. Instead of sending the convicting power of the Spirit to soften Pharaoh’s heart, God allowed Pharaoh to respond to these miracles however Pharaoh wanted to respond to them. And, the way that sinners want to respond to God’s work is with unbelief.

This is why unbelievers can reject Jesus Christ even though they see God answer prayer or admit that they believe in life after death or realize that they have no explanation for the existence of sin. Without the convicting power of the Spirit, nobody would ever believe God and submit to his Lordship.

This is why we have no right to be proud about our faith. Your faith in Jesus is not the result of some clever insight you had to believe the gospel; it is the result of God’s gracious work in your heart by his spirit, softening your heart to respond in faith to the gospel.

It is also why you and I must pray for God to work in the hearts of unbelievers when we sow the seeds of the gospel. Unless God softens the heart, the ears that hear his word will reject it.

Are you thankful for God’s grace that softened your heart to trust in Jesus? Are you praying for his work in the hearts of others around you so that they, too, will recieve the gospel message?

John 16

Today’s reading is John 16.

Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples for life without him. He spoke the words of this chapter just shortly before he was betrayed. He made disturbing prophecies about what they would face in the days ahead (vv. 2-3, 20-21, 32). Yet he also promised that they would not be alone; instead “the Advocate” (the Holy Spirit) would come and empower their work (vv. 7-11).

One aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work would be to guide the disciples as they wrote the Scriptures. That’s what the promise at the end of verse 13 meant when Jesus said, “he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” The disciples would not lead the church from their own mistake-prone thinking and human judgment. Instead, the Holy Spirit would guide them.

This is one reason why we value the Bible and believe it to be without error and fully reliable. It is not the collected opinions of a few good men. It is the written word of God recorded by godly man as they were guided by the Holy Spirit of God.

I’m glad you’ve been reading these devotionals and hope they have been truly helpful to your life. But my words are only correct and helpful as they correctly describe and apply THE WORD, the spirit-inspired scripture. It is what we need to become who Jesus called us to be, so value the Word and learn it for your own growth in godliness.

Ephesians 1

Today, read Ephesians 1.

When we left Paul yesterday in Acts 28, he was living in his own rented home and waiting for two years for his trial in Rome. During this house arrest, Paul wrote his “prison epistles”–Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon so this seems like an appropriate point for us to read them.

As we were reading the book of Acts, we saw that Paul spent two years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10) on his third missionary journey. At the end of that journey as Paul traveled to Jerusalem, Paul called for the elders from the Ephesian church to meet with him when he stopped in nearby in Miletus (Acts 20:17-38). I’m bringing all this up to remind you that Paul had a very personal interest and relationship with this particular church. This is why he wrote one of his prison letters to them while in Rome awaiting trial.

The mood of this chapter, Ephesians 1, is ebullient; it overflows with praise for God’s love and blessings (vv. 3-14) and thanks for the faith of the Ephesians (vv. 15-23). Although there are many truths in this chapter on which we could meditate, let’s focus on verse 13b-14, “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

God has promised us so much in Christ but how do we know that those promises apply to us? According to verse 13b, it is because the Holy Spirit seals us. This is a way of describing God’s ownership. The Spirit tells us that we belong to Christ. As we see the fruit of the Spirit growing and developing in our lives, it reassures us that we belong to Christ.

The Holy Spirit is more than our seal, though, according to this verse. He is also, “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance….” This means that the joy he brings us in Christ, the love that we have for other believers and that they have for us, and all the other benefits the Spirit gives us are reminders, tastes of what eternity will be like. Think of the greatest worship service you’ve ever experienced, the kind where each song drew your heart closer to God and the message filled you with awe and love for God. I’m talking about the kind of service that made you feel sad when it ended but also made you feel excited to read the word and serve God while singing his praises. This is what eternity with Jesus will be like and the Spirit’s blessing in this way is a deposit, reassuring you that you will be there to experience that eternity and giving you a preview of what it will be like.

If the Spirit is the deposit, the down payment of these good things, then when do we get the whole package of good things? According to verse 14 it will be at “the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” “The redemption of those who are God’s possession” is the return of Christ. At that time, Christ will select everyone who has the Spirit–the seal of his ownership–and he will finish his work of redemption by glorifying our bodies and sanctifying our hearts and minds fully. Then he will welcome us into the eternal worship service that never ends.

This is why you have the Holy Spirit–to remind you of all that is coming for us in Christ in eternity. So be encouraged no matter what happens today and walk in the Spirit obediently as a child of God.

1 Corinthians 2

Today we’re reading 1 Corinthians 2.

The gospel sounds like total nonsense to those who don’t know Jesus but that doesn’t mean it actually is nonsense. Instead, it is a message of great wisdom to those who are mature (v. 6) but not because we reasoned and thought our way to that wisdom. No, it is wisdom that was hidden from most people but now revealed to us by the grace of God (vv. 7-8). Though this revelation given to us in the gospel, we learned about all that God has done for us in Christ (vv. 9-10) but only after the Holy Spirit went to work on our minds and hearts (vv. 10-12). The focus of this chapter is the Holy Spirit and what he did to us in order to make us receptive to the gospel (vv. 10-16).

In churches like ours which are non-charismatic, we sometimes are skittish about the Holy Spirit. We acknowledge that he is God but get concerned when believers pray to him or talk about him. Don’t be concerned. Your spiritual life is a gift from the Holy Spirit of God and you don’t need to do any miracles to see him working in your life. The discernment you have about good and evil, wisdom and foolishness, what is spiritual and what is sinful is because of the Holy Spirit. So, thank him for his work in your life and ask him to keep working on you, in you, and through you to draw you closer to Christ.