Refresh & Restore — January 11, 2023

I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.[1]

2 Corinthians 12:1-10


Greetings Sojourners!

This week’s devotion is for me. I have been looking at this passage for a couple of weeks now and am so thankful that it exists! I need this.

But it is for you, too! We all need to be reminded of Jesus’ words here.

And there’s even better news: I aim to be brief in this week’s Bible study! The spring semester of school is well underway, and my classes at William Carey are back in full swing. So, I have several irons in the fire at the moment. This is important, though – too important to go unsaid, too necessary for me to say.

I hope it helps you as much as it has me.

A Thorn in the Flesh (vv. 1-7)

The content of verses 1-7 are widely debated, and I do not intend to wade into that debate today. When it comes to Bible interpretation, I tend to take the Alistair Begg approach: in Scripture, the main things are the plain things. Chas Rowland puts it a little clearer: in Scripture, the important things are clear, and the clear things are important. There are parts of this passage that are clear and parts that are purposefully unclear.

When I say purposefully unclear, I mean that the Holy Spirit obviously did not decide to give us the specific details regarding the content of the “visions and revelations of the Lord” (v. 1), what it means to be “caught up to the third heaven” (v. 2 – and which Paul himself did not know whether it was “in the body or out of the body”), what it means to be “caught up into paradise” (v. 3 – which Paul states only “God knows”). If I were to give my best and most theologically sound interpretation of these things, it would be two-fold: 1) I don’t know, and 2) it cannot be (fully) known.

It is okay to say “I don’t know” when it comes to Bible interpretation. That does not mean we do not need to study or that it is not okay to dig into God’s Word to search for answers. Those are good and valuable things. But it is important to be able to be honest about what we do not know or understand, especially if the alternative is to teach or proclaim things that may be untrue or dangerously heretical.

Some might balk at my saying that it cannot be fully known, but we are limited to what God has given us in His Word – and rightly so! The Bible contains everything that can be known about God. There are commentaries galore, but they are written by men. Peter’s second letter deals with this at length in a section that immediately precedes a section on how dangerous false teachers are. Look at this passage from 2 Peter talking about the importance of the revelation of God found in His Word versus the direction men (or women) may take it:

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:19-21

Peter is talking about the illuminating value of God’s revelation through Scripture. Man’s interpretation can be helpful, but it is the Word that is a lamp for our feet and light to guide our path (Psalm 119:105)!

So, here is what is plain or clear in verses 1-7 and therefore main or important.

  • Paul was given visions of “surpassing greatness” (v. 7). Based on the context (“third heaven” and “paradise)”, he was given some sort of glimpses into heaven.
  • These visions were so great that Paul wished to boast about and that took great pains to keep him from boasting. Paul had written earlier to the church at Corinth about the dangers of such boasting, explaining that is why God chooses “what is low and despised in the world…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29) and reminding them – and apparently himself – of the Lord’s words in Jeremiah 9:23-24: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.”
  • Paul was given “a thorn in the flesh” to “keep [him] from becoming conceited”. There are three main categories that interpretations of this “thorn” fall into: “(1) spiritual or psychological anxiety (such as anguish over Israel’s stubborn unbelief); (2) opposition to his ministry or message; and (3) a recurring and tormenting physical malady”.[2] Scholars and theologians find reasons in the text for all three. I have speculations but find no value in sharing those with you here. What is clear is that God allowed this “messenger of Satan to harass” Paul just as He allowed similar with Job – just for different reasons. It is the same God who decided not to give us more information in this section of Scripture. I trust Him and His wisdom.

If you are uncomfortable with not knowing more about this, let me give you a little guidance on how to proceed. First, I would tell you to dig into the biblical cross-references (those little letters that point you to other places in the Bible that talk about similar things/topics). Limit yourself to what can be known in the Bible. Second, be careful about letting your favorite Bible guy or gal tell you fully what the Bible limits. Our Father knows best, and if He has not fully revealed something, be wary of a “preacher” who touts full revelation. That means what has been revealed to him (or her) did not come from the Bible. I am scared of those people. I would rather be a Bible-guy, satisfied with what is in it, than a popular preacher spreading my own words.

The good news, especially for us in this Bible study is that what comes after verses 1-7 is clear and plain and, therefore, important and main!

Sufficient Grace (vv. 8-10)

Whatever the “thorn in the flesh” was, it was so bad that Paul says that he “pleaded with the Lord” about it three times that it would “leave” him (v. 8). The word translated “plead” means to “call for or upon someone as for aid, to invoke God, to beseech, entreat”.[3] Paul was literally begging God to make this “thorn”, this “messenger of Satan” that was harassing him to go away – because God was the only one who could make it go away! Apparently, Jesus’ answer was a different one than Paul was looking for: no.

I know something of struggling and begging God to take the struggle away. I also know a little bit about the answer being no. Thankfully, Paul’s “no” carried with it an explanation. Paul’s “no” got a verbal answer from Jesus (notice the red letters). Rather than taking away this thorn (which again was allowed by God) was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Rather than immediate – or eventual since we do not know if this thorn was ever removed – relief, Jesus told Paul that He would supply the strength to endure the thorn, that sufficient grace would be provided in his moments of need.

This may not seem like good news since we live in an era where immediate gratification is what many people are seeking, but it is truly good news. I am not saying this out of some sense of religious hocus pocus. When I cry out for God to rescue me from a struggle that has plagued and harassed me, I want immediate deliverance, too! I begged Him for relief earlier today and earnestly hoped that the malady would leave me right then and there. But it didn’t. It didn’t immediately go away, and it will be back. Paul’s “thorn” would not go away, but neither would Jesus! Jesus – Emmanuel (“God with us”) – would meet Paul’s weakness and provide sufficient – enough to overcome and get through – grace and strength to carry Paul through! Jesus meets me in my struggle and stays with me. He provides the same sufficient grace for you and me today.

Paul pleaded and begged and received more than a response from Jesus; he received the presence of Jesus and the full strength of God Himself to overcome the struggle! I hate my struggles. I hate being weak. More often than not, I find myself feeling hopeless when the struggles linger and return. But I am so thankful that in the midst of struggle, I find the presence of God. I find His strength. I find grace sufficient to do more than survive but to live and thrive in Christ. I find new mercies (Lamentations 3:22-23). I, like Paul, find Jesus.

The good thing for us is that we do not have to wait for a word from the Lord to intervene. The words – those red letters – in today’s passage are spoken to us as well. We don’t have to wait for God to speak because He has spoken!

Paul just thought that the visions he had were of surpassing greatness, but through the sufficient and continual grace of Jesus he grew to understand that there was something better than even the best visions. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi came at the end of his life, shortly before his death (by martyrdom). He did not talk to them of a thorn or visions. He spoke to them of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ [his] Lord” (Philippians 3:7). He explained to the church at Philippi and to us that everything he had previously boasted in – his Hebrew heritage, his Pharisaical pedigree, his exorbitant education, and even his most-valued visions – was equivalent now and counted by him as “rubbish” (Philippians 3:8). For context, the word translated “rubbish” was the word used to describe “refuse of grain, chaff, or of a table, of slaughtered animals, of dung, and figuratively of the filth of the mind”.[4]

I want you to think about what these visions likely showed Paul and what this statement means. Paul’s vision was one of heaven – of paradise! But it paled in comparison to the “surpassing worth” of Jesus! Heaven, without Jesus, (pardon the crass language here) is crap. Read that again. Heaven without Jesus is nothing. A Jesus-less heaven is worthless – as the kids say, “straight trash”. Does that seem odd to you? If it does, you are boasting in the wrong things!

Paul was at risk of boasting in the wrong things in our passage today, but by the grace of God, he received a thorn. The Lord allowed something bad to bring about the grace to help Paul boast only in Christ. What did not seem like a blessing – and definitely would not have been had it not been for Christ – was a blessing because of the grace given to Paul to withstand. The question for us, and honestly the question I have to ask myself often, is whether or not I can be satisfied with the grace and presence of Christ in the face of continued difficulty.

Wrapping Up

I am thankful that Jesus is better than my struggles. His power is enough to withstand. His Spirit never leaves me nor forsakes me. And, just as He promised, He is with me always, “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). But I need constant reminding.

If I am not careful, I can be so boastful. God’s power becomes eclipsed in my mind by my pride. His grace gets masked by my desire to be my own man and get through in my own steam. Thankfully, I have the Word of God and passages like ours today to remind me of the gift of God’s sufficient grace!

What about you?

Are you satisfied with the idea of heaven apart from Jesus? Would you rather have a mansion and immediate release from your earthly troubles rather than be in the presence of God and experience His sufficient grace?

These are difficult questions, but they are necessary ones. They are questions that I struggle with as I plead for relief. But God is big enough and strong enough for our questions. His loving-kindness can withstand and carry us through our doubts. His mercies and sufficient grace are enough to get us through whatever thorns tear at us.

I pray that I can boast like Paul did at the end of today’s passage that he was able to be “content” – to “be well–pleased”[5] – in “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” because when he was weak, he was strong because of Jesus’ sufficient grace. I am not there yet, but there is sufficient grace to get me there eventually. That’s good news! And I needed to hear it today. I hope it helps you as well.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 12:1–10.

[2] Douglas J. Moo, “The Letters and Revelation,” in NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 2096.

[3] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[4] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[5] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

Songs for Sunday, January 1, 2023

Here are our Scriptures & songs:

  • Scripture | Lamentations 3:19-24

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in Him.”

  • Scripture | Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.



Refresh & Restore — December 29, 2022

17  Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty;
they will see a land that stretches afar.
18  Your heart will muse on the terror:
“Where is he who counted, where is he who weighed the tribute?
Where is he who counted the towers?”
19  You will see no more the insolent people,
the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend,
stammering in a tongue that you cannot understand.
20  Behold Zion, the city of our appointed feasts!
Your eyes will see Jerusalem,
an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent,
whose stakes will never be plucked up,
nor will any of its cords be broken.
21  But there the Lord in majesty will be for us
a place of broad rivers and streams,
where no galley with oars can go,
nor majestic ship can pass.
22  For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver;
the Lord is our king; he will save us.[1]

Isaiah 33:17-22


Greetings Sojourners!

It’s that time of year again. Lord willing, a new year approaches. We have just moved out of a time of eating and gathering, and now, we move on to a time of resolutions and restarts.

For some, this is a time of regret, looking back over a year that just did not seem to go their way. For others, it is a time of remembering loss. And for some, although this seems to be the smallest group, this is a time of looking back at achievement and growth while looking forward to whatever challenges and victories await them on the horizons of 2023.

I am not quite sure which group I fall into regarding 2023, but I do know that my outlook regarding the future is changing.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had big plans. I was with the love of my life, and anything seemed possible. We were setting out to achieve our goals. She was going to be a pharmacist. I was going to be a teacher. We would get married and use her (much higher) income to pay off whatever student loans we incurred in pursuit of our goals while living off my salary. Once the loans were paid off, we would buy a nice house, fill it with kiddos, and I would head towards my Ph.D. and becoming a principal. From there, the sky, and my ambition, would be the limit.

Out of that list, I am blessed to get to still be with the love of my life, and we have filled a much smaller and less nice house with two kiddos. I cannot fathom what my life would be like with out them. I did eventually become a teacher, but neither a Ph.D. nor becoming a principal are ambitions anymore.

There was a time when these changes were regrets, like ghosts of Christmas future. But God’s plan has been much better than mine. My wife did not become a pharmacist because she got to realize she was a gifted teacher. Her impact on children (with math, no less) is incalculable. I became (and quit and became again) a pastor. My time in the classroom, although it took a decade to get there, meant and means more to me than any of the hypotheticals or the draw of being wealthier ever had. The allure of such things is no longer there.

I get to be a husband. I get to be a daddy. I get to serve the Lord as a teacher, pastor, and even a writer. If the Lord tarries His return, I look forward to whatever He lets me do, and I am excited to follow Him – an excitement that was missing in my earlier ambitions. But more than all those things, I look forward to His return. I look forward to that day when the clouds will part and Jesus will return for His bride, the Church. I anxiously await the return of the King!

The King is Coming (vv. 17-20)

In Isaiah 33, God was using His prophet to deliver the promise of some woes against Israel’s foes and peace to His people. Assyria was and had been waylaying Israel, but God was coming to their rescue. It is important to note that this rescue is not because of the righteous way in which Israel worshipped and followed the Lord. No, this rescue is in spite of their unrighteous rebellion against Him. Much of Isaiah is written prophesying the eventual downfall of Israel and Judah and their eventual capture by and captivity in Babylon. Even with that future coming, this rescue is a picture of the love that God had for His people – and has – despite their rebellion and idolatry.

Isaiah 33:1-2 set the stage and give context for our passage for today:

Ah, you destroyer,
who yourself have not been destroyed,
you traitor,
whom none has betrayed!
When you have ceased to destroy,
you will be destroyed;
and when you have finished betraying,
they will betray you.
O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you.
Be our arm every morning,
our salvation in the time of trouble.[2]

Isaiah was declaring this on behalf of the Lord over Assyria, but He was also praying on behalf of the people to the Lord that they would receive grace in their time of need.

The problem is that Israel did not take the words of God’s prophet warning them of their own future seriously. God had told them through Isaiah what was coming. They knew what the Lord said about sin and what His Law said about it. Isaiah’s ministry telling people “Thus saith the word of the Lord” lasted thirty-nine years and was filled with calls to repentance and pleading with God’s people to listen to what God was saying and look to Him. All that got Isaiah was a martyr’s death (Hebrews 11:32, 37) at the hands of His people, at the hands of God’s people.[3] Yet here, he asked God to give them grace. He asked God to be their strength “every morning” and to be their “salvation in the time of trouble”. And, consistent to who He is, God was “gracious and merciful” to Israel while pouring out His strength on Assyria; He was “slow to anger” toward His people despite their idolatry because He is always “abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8).

Isaiah’s prophecy here stretches beyond the conflict with and rescue from Assyria. It even stretches beyond Babylon, which was only a few decades away on the horizon. He told them what their eyes “will behold” despite what their heart will “muse” on and their eyes could currently see. Their hearts were musing – meaning their thoughts were absorbed – on terror because that is what they were currently experiencing. They failed to look toward what Isaiah was telling them because their eyes currently beheld the “insolent people” who rained “terror” down on them. Isaiah wanted them to “set their minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2) and see what came beyond their field of vision. He wanted them to “behold the King in His beauty”!

Isaiah was not talking about any earthly king of Israel or Judah. The people would have long since been over the allure of their earthly kings because they had suffered – and would suffer again – because of their foolish and idolatrous pursuits. The best of their kings was plagued by the same sin and faults as the people. David, Solomon, and Josiah all suffered injuries and loss at the hands of their enemies, too, with no ability within themselves to turn the tide of battle. And David, “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), was still a sinner who fell “short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) just as all men do. Isaiah was talking about the King!

While Isaiah did not know fully what He was talking about, we can now. He was talking about the “Child” who would come to shine a “great light” on “the people who dwelt in a land of deep darkness” (Isaiah 9:2, 6). He was talking about the “man of sorrows” who would bear “our griefs”, carry our “sorrows”, get “pierced for our transgressions”, and be “crushed for our iniquities” – the one whose “wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5). He was talking about the Savior who was coming in their future, Him who would be “gentle and lowly” (Matthew 11:29) and “give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He was talking about the King who would enter Jerusalem, greeted by palm branches and cries of “Hosanna!” and “King of Israel!” (John 12:13) a week before He “died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures”, who “was buried”, who “was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). In fact, it was because God’s Holy Spirit spoke through Isaiah that Paul spoke of when He said, “in accordance with the Scriptures” (Isaiah 53)!

Neither Israel nor Isaiah could understand then, but God used Isaiah to point them to a greater hope in Jesus than they could imagine – greater than the threat the Assyrians were that day or than Nebuchadnezzar would be in their near future. The eyes of God’s people will eventually see “the King in His beauty”. Their eyes will a new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-11) that will be “untroubled” (v. 20) and truly a city of peace because it will be graced with the presence of the “Prince of peace” and because of whom “the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).

Those who trust in Christ today need to keep in mind that our “eyes will behold the King in His beauty”. We “will see a land that stretches afar”.

The King Will Save Us (vv. 20-22)

Verse 21 starts with the phrase “But there”, speaking of the Jerusalem of the future. The conjunction “but” carries in it everything that comes before and cancels it out in favor of what comes after it. In this case, the before is different than the descriptions of this new Jerusalem found in vv. 20-21. What it says would be “there” will cancel out what is there at the time Isaiah was written.

Israel, namely Judah, during the time of Isaiah 33, could celebrate all the “appointed feasts” in Jerusalem, but there would be a time coming after Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem that no feasts – not Passover, the feast of tabernacles, etc. – would be observed. For a few centuries after they returned from Babylonian exile, they could observe the appointed feasts, but they would gradually morph into celebrations that are pale imitations of what is laid out in the Bible. Even today, there is much turmoil in Jerusalem and many who claim to be children of Abraham but who have denied His Christ, His Messiah. But there will come a day when a greater feast will be celebrated – the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9)!

Isaiah speaks of the future Jerusalem as being “an immovable tent”. In the wilderness, God’s people did not have a temple but a tabernacle. It was portable and crude compared to Solomon’s temple – even the temple after Babylonian captivity or Herod’s temple. When God moved His people around in the wilderness, they would take up its stakes and cords and move it, too. Later, Israel rejoiced greatly when the tabernacle was replaced with the temple. The temple was not meant to be portable and did not need cords or stakes to hold it down.

Both the tabernacle and temple represented the presence of the Lord. Both held the holy of holies hidden behind a veil where the ark of the covenant – and the Mercy Seat – was kept. This was the representation of the throne of God where atonement was made for the sins of Israel. Yet the temple turned out to be as movable as the tabernacle. It was destroyed by the Babylonians, rebuilt after the return from exile, and destroyed again in 70AD. There is currently no temple. Well, a temple does reside on the temple mount, but it is the Dome of the Rock and devoted to Allah instead of Yahweh.

That is the sad reality of those looking to the current Jerusalem to be their hope. There is no hope in Jerusalem today nor has there been in nearly two millennia.

What Isaiah was talking about here in Isaiah 33 was better than the tabernacle or temple because he is pointing to what the holy of holies pointed to: the presence of God in Jesus! In Jesus, God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). That phrase “dwelt” (Gr. eskenosen) can be translated “to have one’s tent” or to tabernacle.[4] God left His throne on high and came to tabernacle with His people! Look at the significance of this in Matthew 27:50-51:

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.[5]

When Jesus – God become flesh – died on the cross, the curtain (veil) separating the holy of holies from the rest of the temple was ripped “from top to bottom” (see footnote [6] for some cool word-nerdiness). Man had access to God as never before because God came to them! That’s good news! Jesus tabernacling with His people means that He is the “immovable tent”!

But there’s greater news yet! Look at the way Revelation 21:1-5 describes the Day we will “behold the King in His beauty”:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”[7]

That is the place Isaiah spoke of where “there the Lord in His majesty will be for us”. It is a land where none of the troubles of the earth can reach us – even the most advanced and dangerous “galley with oars” or “majestic ship” of the most terrible enemy – because the King will have already struck down the nations and “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15)! This is the Day when all of the sad things of this earth come untrue because God will be dwelling with His people. The eyes that were once blurry with tears will be able to look upon the King face to face!

Wrapping Up

I do not know if these words were a comfort for Israel during this time. I know the Assyrians were sent packing and were unable to overtake Israel. By Isaiah’s day (which was also Jeremiah’s, Amos’, etc.), their idolatry had already reached a point of no return. The Father had promised punishment for their sake and was to fulfill His word to them. They, just like our children, had a penchant for ignoring warnings of punishment until it is too late or forgetting former punishments after their sting has faded. What about us?

There is no shortage of troubles. And no matter our plans or hopes for 2023, the only sure hope is that there will be a day when we “behold the King in His beauty”. But we have yet to deal with v. 22: “For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our King; He will save us.” If we belong to Him – if we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus, that is good news for us.

When He comes to judge, He will see Jesus’ righteousness instead of our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 John 2:1-2). Jesus came to fulfill the Law because we cannot (Galatians 4:4-5), so our faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:2-4).

When Jesus returns as King of kings and Lord of lords on that glorious future Day (Revelation 19:11-16), His enemies will fall, but those who have been redeemed – purchased – and reconciled by the death of Christ will no longer be enemies but part of His Kingdom (Romans 5:9-10)!

I am reminded of the words of one of my favorite hymns that is based out of today’s passage:

“I know I shall see in His beauty / The King in whose Law I delight / Who lovingly guards my footsteps / And gives me songs in the night // Redeemed, redeemed / Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb / Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it / His child and forever I am!”

So, today’s Bible study can either be good news for you or bad – not both. Just as there will be days in 2023 that are good or bad, the Day of the Lord will only be good if you can look forward to the coming of the King. If you have been redeemed, then you can look forward to seeing “the King in His beauty”, but if you do not know Him, you get the rider on the white horse – the full wrath of God in His might and strength. A few decades after today’s passage, there were people who understood this more than they had hoped. They stopped receiving grace and mercy and experienced wrath. The saving and powerful hand of God was lifted, and Nebuchadnezzar was allowed into Israel. What will it be for you?

But for those whose boast is in being redeemed by the King…. Their entire life is altered changed because of what He has done for them and in them. His Spirit dwells within them, and He is on the throne interceding on their behalf. And His return is promised.

But just because He has not yet returned does not mean He is distant. Just as God became flesh and tore the veil that separated us from Him, He is still approachable today! No other king on the face of the earth gives access to all his subjects. Even the prime minister of England cannot waltz into Buckingham Palace, roll into King Charles’ private quarters, and merely ask him for whatever he needs. There are protocols. He is the king of England, after all. But the King gives His people access.

In Hebrews 4:16, we are told: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We can fix our eyes upward where He is and look forward to His return, but in the meantime, He gives us access to Him on His throne! The grace Isaiah prayed for is available to us today. All we must do is approach.

That is my prayer for you and yours, me and mine, in 2023. I want every day that the Lord tarries to be one of anticipating His return. I want my actions, hopes, and desires to be dripping with longing for Him and obedience to His great commandment and commission. I want my life to exude gospel at every opportunity. But I am so thankful that the King is available in my waiting.

I know there will be days when I will fail and be filled with doubts and fears, but I also know that I can approach His throne with confidence because I know it is not empty.

The King who sits there cares for me. He is approachable. He has the grace and mercy I need and will give it to me when I need it.

The King redeemed me, loves me, and is coming again. Hallelujah! And amen!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 33:17–22.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 33:1–2.

[3] Donald E. Hartley, “Isaiah the Prophet,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[4] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 27:50–51.

[6] But wait, there’s more! In case you like interesting tidbits (or are nerdy like me), there is another layer to this. In Hebrews 9, the writer of Hebrews is describing the elements of the tabernacle/temple in order to show how Jesus is the substance to their shadow. The mercy seat was on the lid of the ark of the covenant and was representative of the throne of God. It is where the priest would sprinkle the blood each year on Yom Kippur (the day of atonement). The word translated “mercy seat” in Hebrews 9:5 (hilasterion) is only used in that form one other place in the NT. In Romans 3:25, it is translated “propiatiation” – the sacrifice made to trade our sins for Jesus’ righteousness! Written right into the fabric of Scripture by God’s Holy Spirit is the beautiful truth of Emmanuel – God with us – showing us that Jesus is the mercy seat and He is the sacrifice!

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:1–5.

Songs for Christmas Sunday

What a beautiful opportunity it is to get to gather on the Lord’s day to adore Him in worship, thinking on His first coming, life, death, and resurrection, and looking expectantly toward His return!



Here are our Scriptures and songs:

  • Scripture | Luke 2:8-17

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14    “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.

  • Song | Go Tell It on the Mountain
  • Song | Hark the Herald Angels Sing
  • Scripture | 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2

     5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

     6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,

       “In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

  • Song | The Son of God Came Down
  • Song | Joy to the World
  • Invitation | What Child is This?


Refresh & Restore — November 23, 2022

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”[1]

Luke 17:11-19


Greetings Sojourners!

It’s been too long! But I’m glad to be back studying God’s Word with you!

I’ve been writing – just a different sort of writing. As I have said before, I am blessed to be a part of the Masters of Christian Theology program at William Carey University. It has not been easy, but it has been a blessing to me. As bad as I hate to admit it, I have lost a step or two since I was last in school (as a student), but it has been good to grow in my understanding of the Word of God and in theology; it’s even been good to grow as a writer through the (many) research papers.

While I have, unfortunately, been a little more hit-or-miss in the writings here, that is something that I hope will be remedied between now and when I graduate – and definitely beyond if the Lord allows. I have enjoyed our time spent studying Colossians, but we are going to pause that study for the time being. In the meantime, I will shift the writings between now and graduation to dive into passages that fit into and overlap with passages I am diving into either in personal devotional time or in my studies for Christ Community or at Carey.

Even as I look at how to better maximize my time and strategize to use it more effectively, I am thankful to get to be a part of all I get to do. I get to be a follower of Christ. I get to be a husband. I get to be a father. I get to teach and write and serve. I am even thankful for the time I must schedule all these aspects of my life.

This week is a time set aside in America for one to be thankful. The fourth Thursday in November is supposed to be a holiday devoted to celebrating all we have to be thankful for. Since the invention of social media, some challenge themselves to find and commemorate something they are thankful for every day in the month of November. Part of me thinks that it is sad that we need to be reminded to be thankful, but the rest of me knows just how selfish I am and that, left to my own, I will neglect to be grateful. Maybe you don’t need reminding, but I find that I do.

Today, I would like to look with you to God’s Word at a passage that reminded me to be thankful and convicted me of my own lack of thankfulness.

Meeting the Master and Finding Mercy (vv. 11-14)

Any time I study a passage in the latter half of Luke, I cannot help but think of Luke 9:51: When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. That phrase “set His face” could also be translated “he steadfastly set his face to go”[2]. This describes Jesus’ attitude and mindset when the end of His life was drawing near, knowing full well that the cross is why He was headed to Jerusalem. You see, He was not caught off-guard by His crucifixion. Luke’s gospel records this as the moment of Jesus “turned to Jerusalem to complete his work through the predicted betrayal, death, and resurrection.”[3]

This is important because it highlights that His sacrifice was willing. The fact that “He set His face” illustrates that He was resolutely focused on getting there. It brings to mind the sort of focus that an Olympic athlete has when preparing to compete. They focus only on things that are necessary to carry out that goal. Jesus, however, did not stop doing what He came to do – seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10), which is what He was going to the cross to do! So, the encounters He had with those who needed saving were not random encounters or detours, they were part of His mission.

Jesus and His disciples were, as we saw in Luke 9:51, still “on the way to Jerusalem” (v. 11) when they encountered ten lepers. Leprosy meant that these men would have had to declare that they had leprosy when approaching other people by crying out “Unclean, unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45-46) so that 1) people would not come into contact with the infected person[4] and 2) those concerned with being clean according to the Law would be made aware so they would not become unclean.

Leprosy was a catch-all term in the New Testament that referenced any skin disease from the period, but it is safe to say, regardless of the level of severity, that these men had been ostracized and at a distance from society for some time. They would have been unable to work or socialize with others, even family. They would feel isolated and alone. More than that, they were isolated and alone. When these men saw Jesus, they respectfully kept their distance, but they ceased their cries of “unclean” to cry out to Jesus: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (vv. 12-13).

Time and again, those who are outcast and downcast found their way to Jesus seeking help from Him. These particular outcasts asked Him for mercy. The word translated “mercy” here meant “to have compassion or mercy on a person in unhappy circumstances” or “to be gracious toward [or] bestow kindness”.[5] This request for mercy would have been the same whether they were asking for charity or alms or to be healed, so it is difficult to tell exactly what they were seeking. They found more charity than they could have ever hoped to receive.

No matter what they were seeking, they were likely confused by Jesus’ response. He did not toss them a coin or lay hands on them for healing. He didn’t even make mud and rub it on them (John 9:6) or tell them to bathe in the Jordan (2 Kings 5). He simply told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” If they had been familiar with the Law, they would have recognized that this was what those who were cleansed of leprosy were told to do in Leviticus 14:1-32 – to go and show themselves to the priest so that he could confirm they were clean and make an offering for their guilt and atonement for their sin. When the text says, “as they went” (v. 14), it shows that the men – all ten of them – departed to go to the priest. They had faith. Or at the very least belief or held to 1st century Judaism.

Nothing miraculous had happened to spark their journey, merely the command of Him from whom they sought mercy. But after they headed out on their journey, the miracle happened. They were cleansed. The sores on their skin were healed, yes, but something more happened. They were cleansed. Those who had just moments before needed to cry out “unclean” when they approached others were made clean by Jesus. They did not need lengthy washings or offerings by a priest because they had been cleansed by the God those priests served. Those ten men’s lives were changed in a moment. But the heart of one was touched more than the other nine.

Gratitude and Grace (vv. 15-19)

I cannot imagine what those men must have felt in their hearts – and in their bodies! It is important for us to look at the distinctions between the one and the nine in this narrative. Before we judge the nine too harshly, it is important to note as we did in v. 14 that they likely were heading exactly where Jesus had told them to go – to the priest. They were being obedient to Jesus and to the Law. The one who turned back would have had a hard time fulfilling that command, though, because he was a Samaritan.

All my life, I have heard the issue with Samaritans oversimplified to say that there was simply a sort of racial tension between Jewish people and those from Samaria. They have a long history of division. The Samaritans are largely the descendants of people brought in to colonize the region when the Assyrians conquered the land.[6] Those inhabitants were later educated in the Law after God had sent lions into the land to attack them (2 Kings 17:25-26) and some intermarrying occurred with the northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.[7] They claimed the same or at least similar beliefs as their Jewish relatives, but they had different holy places and places of worship. So, the tensions over ethnicity are accompanied and highlighted by the religious differences. The Samaritans were not accepted by Jewish people.

A leper would have been ostracized, but a Samaritan leper would have been a total outcast. So, for the Master (v. 13) to show such grace apparently made quite an impact. Ten lepers were cleansed. Nine Jewish former-lepers went to show themselves to the priest like Jesus commanded them. But only one stopped to thank Jesus. In fact, saying that he stopped to thank Jesus is an understatement. Look at what the text says. He saw that he was healed, turned back to where Jesus was, praised God, fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, and thanked Him (vv. 15-16).

Imagine what led this man to have such a reaction – a potentially incurable and infectious skin disease, seeking charity in a foreign land that is hostile to you and your people. Then, he encountered the One from whom mercy could be found. Imagine the feeling when looking down at your hands, expecting them to be covered in sores and boils but seeing clear skin. You would still have to go to present yourself to the priest, but Jesus was still standing there. Being cleared by the priest would mean you could go back to your life, but the One who healed you is right there.

What we see as a display of thankfulness was an act of worship for this man. What does that say for our thankfulness for what God has done for us?

Jesus asked the man some important questions: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” What can he ask of us?

Jesus knew the man’s heart. He knew what he meant when he asked for mercy. And He knew what drove the man to his face at His feet in praise and thanksgiving. Rather than showing himself before a priest, this man laid himself down at the feet of the Great High Priest. Jesus told the man, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Amen.

Wrapping Up

I asked you to imagine what the man must have been feeling, but, if you are in Christ, you know. If you are in Christ, you were formerly outcast (Ephesians 2:12). You were formerly not His people (1 Peter 2:10). You were His enemy (Romans 5:10). And you were dead in your sin (Ephesians 2:1-2, Colossians 2:13). Any of those are hopeless, but all of them leaves one desperate and despondent. Or it leaves one callous and defiant (Ephesians 4:17-19).

If you are in Christ, that means that you have been saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). You did nothing to save yourself (Ephesians 2:9). In fact, you were and are completely incapable of saving yourself (Romans 3:10-12). Jesus did it all (Titus 3:4-5). When you respond to Christ by believing that He died for your sins and was raised again and confessed Him as your Lord (Romans 10:9-10), a transformation takes place (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). The outcast is brought near (Ephesians 2:13). Not-His-people becomes His people (1 Peter 2:9-10). His enemy is adopted into His family (Romans 5:8-11, Galatians 4:4-6). And the dead is made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5, Colossians 2:13-14).

If that is true of you, does it move you to worship? Does it move you to gratitude? When is the last time that you cast yourself on your face before God and thanked Him for His love and grace and mercy?

Religion does not produce such a reaction.

When John the Baptist sent His disciples to Jesus to make sure He was the Messiah, Jesus answered them by paraphrasing Isaiah 29:18-19 and 35:5-10: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” This answer satisfied John, and it points us to who Jesus is and what He does. He is the God who saves! One thing is for sure, dear Sojourner, the ones who can now see or walk who couldn’t before, the ones who were cleansed from their leprosy or given the ability to hear, those who were dead and are now alive – they are grateful! What does it say for me if I am not?

I needed this reminder. It is so easy to forget sometimes what it was to be lost, what it was to be dead in my sins. But there is a Savior who has earned my gratitude. He is worthy of better worship than I can offer.

I urge you to examine your heart – not because tomorrow is the fourth Thursday in November but because encountering Jesus produces a response. Encountering Him either drives us to repent of our sins and put our trust in Him or to vehemently deny Him. There is no middle ground. The good news is that if you find that you are not saved, He is still the God who saves! And I would love to help you encounter Him today.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 17:11–19.

[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[3] Trent C. Butler, Luke, vol. 3, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 151.

[4] Brenda Heyink, “Leprosy,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[5] Zodhiates

[6] Robert T. Anderson, “Samaritans,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 941.

[7] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Samaritans,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1886.

Refresh & Restore — August 11, 2022

27  Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28    My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word![1]

Psalm 119:27-28


Greetings Sojourners!

I have written in the past regarding struggles that I have, so I will not revisit that here today. In fact, it is my plan to be brief.

It is not often when I am found at a loss for words, but there are a few things that are on my mind as I write this that I want to say – and I hope that it is helpful to someone.

First, it is okay to struggle. It is. The idea that any one of us can be self-sufficient and manage to never have anything overwhelming happen is on one side a pipe-dream and on the other utter foolishness.

I spent too many years in my twenties trying to give the impression that I had it (whatever it is) together. And, in all of that time putting up a façade of strength and resolve, I became more and more prideful, grew to try to rely more on my own strength (which was lacking in the first place), and forgot that complete and total surrender and reliance upon God is the bedrock of faith. We trust in Him because He is God. When we are weak, He is strong. When we are drowning in whatever this fallen world throws on us, He sets our feet on the rock (Psalm 40:2) – He is even the Rock!

Second, there are many people who are struggling. Sometimes, I pride myself in getting to be the guy God uses to help struggling people. I am not so foolish to think that I can fix people’s troubles, but I enjoy getting to point people to the Christ who is my hope – to the God who saves (eternally and in present times of trouble). Over the past few weeks, a sister and some brothers in Christ reminded me that it is good to be helped and not just try to help others. In the midst of some angst, exhaustion, and despair, they helped me like I have helped others. They pointed me to Jesus. They prayed for me. I rejoice that God is not only my Savior but that He has not left me alone. His Spirit never leaves me. And He moved in the hearts of these helpers to help me.

Lastly, there are varieties of struggles that I could not begin to enumerate. But the existence of those struggles does not mean that God is not there. He is. It does not negate the hope that is in Christ for us to struggle. The trials and tribulations of this life is why we “take heart” in the One who “has overcome the world” (John 16:33)!

I know have a dear sister in Christ who has gone through many sorrows and trials over the past few years than many will ever go through in their lifetimes. She has consistently reached out for people to pray and lift her up to the Lord. He hears those prayers. He loves her.

He loves me and you, too.

The verses above appeared in my quiet time yesterday, specifically verse 28, and reminded me of what I do when I find myself overwhelmed. I meditate on God’s Word – not ohmmmmmm with legs crossed, but listening to or reading chunks of God’s Word and let my mind dwell on Him rather than whatever has me bogged down in the moment. As I say this, I feel it necessary to say that this is not a magic cure. His Word is not a series of incantations that force my struggles into submission. This ain’t that. But fixing my mind upon Him, like we have been looking at in Colossians, means that my struggles are in perspective correctly with eternity.

Yesterday when I read verse 28 – “My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to Your Word” – I was reminded why I do what I do, both in personal pursuit and relationship with God and in getting to write these devotions. I seek to be strengthen by God through His Word. And I want to help you, dear Sojourner, to receive the very same thing – to point you to Him through His Word and receive the help and salvation you need.

I told you I wanted to be short and will live up to that. My feeble words are over, but I want to give you something so much better. I want to share with you some passages from the Word that help me when I am struggling. There is no better place to turn when our souls are melting away with sorrow that the Word of the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Passages for Meditation

The Lord is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
He knows those who take refuge in Him.

Nahum 1:7

[Humble yourselves], therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.

1 Peter 5:6-7

19  Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20    My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21    But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22    The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
23    they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24    “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in Him.”

25    The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
to the soul who seeks Him.
26    It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:19-26

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:8-10

21    Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22    It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23    who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

24    Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25    To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26    Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might
and because he is strong in power,
not one is missing.

27    Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28    Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29    He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30    Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31    but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:21-31

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthews 11:28-30

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 119:27–28.

Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.[1]

Colossians 2:11-15


Greetings Sojourners!

I know that I have mentioned time and again how Colossians is one of my favorite books of the Bible and that my walk with Christ is seemingly married to this book. Today’s passage gets right to the heart of that. It also illustrates again one of the most beautiful aspects of Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae: Jesus is at the heart of the issues they are facing, He is the solution to their troubles, and He is the hope they have for the future! Jesus – period!

This passage is sandwiched inside of Paul’s response to the false teaching infiltrating the Colossian church. Just prior to this was our passage from last week that told them (and us) what to watch out for that is seeking to capture the church – philosophy, empty deceit, human tradition, elementary principles (v. 8). The issue was that those things were “not according to Christ” (v. 8) who is God (v. 9) and is above all things as “the head of all rule and authority” (v. 10). This highlights something beautiful and important about this letter: every opportunity Paul gets, he makes much of Jesus. He could have offered them philosophies or traditions or strategies to try to fend off false teaching. No, “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:7) stays at the forefront of his writing because that is the foundation of his worship. And what we worship is clearly seen in our lives – and in the solutions we seek ourselves and offer to others.

There is a temptation when looking at passages like this one to dismiss it because of words that seem foreign or that challenge our presuppositions or maybe even hurt our feelings. We need to remember that the Bible is not concerned with keeping our status quo. It is not meant to be twisted and contorted to fit human agendas or to support things contradictory to it. It is, however, meant to point us to its Author, and, in meeting with Him, there are going to be things that challenge us.

My prayer for today’s Bible study is that you find yourself willing to come face to face with Jesus, “the founder (or Author) and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and see what He has done for those who put their hope in Him. Knowing Jesus – not knowing information about Him or following in the footsteps of people who knew Him – is the only way to eternal life, the truth that transcends everything the world has to offer, and the only hope in the face of the wages of sin.

Let’s Start with Circumcision

I can promise you that this is one of the last subjects I wanted to write about today. It is awkward. It is a little weird to talk about in general. It comes off as very old-covenant, and many preachers and teachers just kind of loosely compare it to baptism and stay on the baptism side of the discussion. I have been one of those guys. But the older I get and the longer I walk with Christ – the more I grow into Him and find my mind renewed by His Spirit (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23-24), I want to hold onto and dig into every part of Scripture I get to study. So, study this we will.

Look at the way Paul brings up this subject. He is writing to the members of the Colossian church – to those who have been saved. He reminds them that not only have they been “filled in Him” (v. 10), but they were “also” circumcised “with a circumcision made without hands” (v. 11). Circumcision was introduced in Genesis 17. God had already made His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 to give him offspring that would number like the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:5), promised the trials of Egypt and the prosperity that would follow (Genesis 15:13-16), and now He continues that covenant calling for Abraham (at this point ninety-nine years old) and all of the males in his household to be circumcised as a sign of their covenant.

Covenants at this time in history were done in very bloody and threatening ways. Throughout the near and mid-East at that time, covenants were known as covenants of halves. If you go back and read Genesis 15, you can see why:

And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram….

The covenant of halves is illustrated in the way the animals – in this case a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon – were, well, halved. They were slaughtered and cut in half, leaving a bloody path between the halves. When two parties were going to make a covenant, they would both walk through the bloody halves before agreeing or promising to keep the covenant, giving the understanding that whichever party broke the covenant was forfeiting their life. The one who broke the covenant would share the same end as the animals.

It was a very bloody picture, but it was meant to hold both parties in a covenant to their word. I imagine it was quite a convincing scene! But think about man covenanting with God. Mankind is sinful and deceitful and prone to break covenants. God is the opposite. If God covenanted with mankind like men did with one another, He would have to pour out His wrath again like He had on the world in Noah’s time (Genesis 6-9) but with all mankind and no ark. There is an important difference in God’s covenant and the covenant of men, and it is through two easily overlooked details in Genesis 15:12 and 17: God put Abraham to sleep, and God alone (see the smoking fire pot and flaming torch – that’s Him!) walked through the halves!

God never intended on His covenant needing man to be faithful. He alone is faithful. He already knew that mankind would break the covenant, and He had already decided “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) everything that He would do in Jesus on behalf of the world. God Himself walked the bloody path between the halves. Thousands of years later, He would walk a path to a place called Golgotha to reconcile people to Himself and make peace “by the blood of His cross” (ch 1:19-20).

So, as far as circumcision went from Genesis 17 to the cross, it was a symbol of the bloody sacrifice God took upon Himself. Mankind could not keep the covenant nor would man’s death as a result of breaking the covenant do any good. Circumcision was a way to (forgive the pun) give man opportunity to have a little skin in the game – to have a reminder that there was cost involved. Understanding that circumcision does not equal salvation was important for Israel, but, for the church at Colossae, it was important because there were false teachers known as Judaizers who were proclaiming that they needed Jesus plus circumcision to be saved, which led to Jesus plus the Law and Jesus plus festivals and so on and so forth. Our passage today reminds us of the formulas we saw back at the beginning of this study:

Jesus + nothing = everything                       Jesus + anything = nothing

Circumcision pointed to the covenant God made with Abraham. But the blood pointed to Jesus. He alone is what the Colossian church and every sinner has ever needed for salvation. To add to Him, to add to His gospel is to give a different one (Galatians 1:6-9). There is no other Jesus (Titus 2:13). There is no other way (John 14:6).

The Importance of What Jesus Did

When we go back to today’s passage, it makes what Paul was saying clearer. The circumcision he is talking about in his letter to the Colossians is not the physical removal of the foreskin of males but “a circumcision made without hands” (v. 11). It reflects the way God through Ezekiel talks about the new covenant that would be made through Jesus: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The idea was not cosmetic surgery; it was a transplant! God knew we could not keep His covenant, so he kept it for us. He knew the “wages of sin is death”, so he prepared a way – through Himself – to transplant people from death to eternal life!

As I mentioned earlier, circumcision and baptism are often talked about together, and the Bible clarifies how. They are both outward symbols of things that occur in the heart, but, more importantly, those activities are supposed ways to proclaim faith in Him. In the Old Testament, circumcision pointed to the way that God ratified His covenant with Father Abraham as we discussed above. But, now with baptism, we see a reflection of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection in the way He saves people (see picture below). When one repents of their sin and believes in Jesus, they are saved. That means that when it says that “having been buried with Him in baptism…you were also raised through faith in the powerful working of God” (v. 12), that means you were raised from being dead in your trespasses and sins (v. 13, Ephesians 2:1-2) to be “made alive” in Christ (v. 13, Ephesians 2:4-5)! Paul says it beautifully in Romans 6:4: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” That’s good news!

The rest of the picture shared in our passage today is good news, too! Our trespasses – times when we have strayed from the path of what is right and good by sinning – and uncircumcision – lack of faith/covenant in God – produced death in us, just as it did in all people since Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. The emphasis Paul is making to the Colossian church is not that they are still dead and not that they have lost salvation when being led astray by false teachers. He is emphasizing to them that those who are “filled in” (v. 10) Christ have been “made alive” in Him (v. 13)!

This beautiful picture continues to unfold with layer upon layer of God’s love, grace, and mercy through Jesus! He who makes lost sinners found and the dead in sin alive has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (vv. 13-14). This is something we need to understand. If we are in Christ, it is because He has forgiven us – He has changed our standing – He has brought dead sinners to new life in Him! His forgiveness is important because it is God we have sinned against (Psalm 51:4). The “record of debt” and its “legal demands” are results of our sin – death (Romans 6:23). The righteous and holy God who declares what sin is must not shirk payment. It would not be just for Him to simply let people off the hook – payment has been demanded. Thankfully, He is not only just but also the one who justifies (Romans 3:26) those who have faith in Jesus! He paid with His life to cancel our “debt”, “nailing it to the cross” (v. 14, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 1:18-19, 1 John 2:1-2).

Once one has put their faith in Christ and believed upon Him, they find themselves living in new territory: freedom. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. He was condemned in our place covering us with His righteousness in the exchange (2 Corinthians 5:21). No one on earth would – or even could – do that for us. And this changes our lives. Galatians 2:20 describes the change: our flesh is “crucified with Christ” that we may live since “Christ lives in [us]”; and the lives we live from that moment forward are lived “by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]”. It changes everything.

Satan hates those changes. He hates what God has accomplished in Christ. I often hear people talking of something being final and they describe the circumstances by saying that the final nails have been driven into a coffin, sealing it. The nails on Jesus’ cross (v. 14) ring with that sort of finality for Satan, his demons, and his followers/false teachers. As the Roman hammer nailed Jesus – God in flesh – to the cross, Jesus was disarming “the rulers and authorities and put[ting] them to open shame” – the cross was not a loss for Jesus but triumph (v. 15)! When He arose from the tomb, He “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10)! Once again, that is good news!

Wrapping Up

There are so many opportunities to argue and debate over what is and what is not true belief or true religion. I used to be very interested in the field of apologetics and giving a reasoned defense for what the Bible says versus what other religions or other worldviews believe. But I find myself more and more coming back and pleading for the gospel – the good news of Jesus – like Paul did here.

Now, I am not saying that there are not times to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3); there are times and places for that. What I am saying is that there is immense value in sharing what Christ has done. I want to see people come to know Christ more than I want to win a debate. I hope that there would be opportunity for faith in Christ through these Bible studies more than refuting false belief. I specifically pray for this Bible study to be used to point people to Jesus.

But I recognize Paul’s context here. Wolves had entered the sheepfold. False teachers were attacking the Colossian church. The church needed – and needs today – to be protected. But the answer is still the same – the debate is only over one thing: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, I ask you, dear Sojourner, as I close today: do you believe in Christ – are you in Christ?

It is easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of life. It is easy to get side-tracked by focusing on so many distractions that we lose sight of the big things. False teachers are convincing, but our own deceitful hearts are even more convincing. Today is a good day to look at your life and assess where you are – or where you aren’t – with Christ. But, if He has granted you today, there is opportunity for salvation!

That’s good news!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 2:11–15.


Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.[1]

Colossians 2:8-10


Greetings Sojourners!

My heart is heavy after the evil events this past month in Uvalde, TX and Buffalo, NY. I have tried to form words on this to write here, but have failed. Plain and simple, there is evil in this fallen world. We feel helpless and small in its wake. But I find myself clinging more and more to Jesus’ words and John’s response at the end of Revelation:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20)

We need Him. Come, Lord Jesus!

In the week since TX and nearly month since NY, there can be seen a different sort of wickedness. Here in the United States, there is a lot of partisan finger pointing with both sides calling the other bad (and all sorts of other things), but this particular wickedness is one of the few bipartisan efforts in the US government today. It is opportunism.

Lives were lost, and one side says that this pain needs to be used to push through gun legislation. Senseless killing is seen as an opportunity to push policy. People made in the image of God were slaughtered, and the other side blames the first for the murderers to have opportunity to kill in the first place. We need to repent of such. In times when the evil seems to much and the words just do not come, it is okay to be quiet. But, when evil happens and you see opportunity for advancement – of yourself or your platform or agenda, it is time to assess what is going on in your own heart. When hearts should be rent in sadness and hurting for others, especially hearts professing to be “comforted by God” and by His Spirit comforting others (1 Corinthians 1:3-5), but take time to talk policy first, the worldliness of our own hearts can be seen, too.

I remember back in February 2019 in the aftermath of the Aurora, IL shooting. Similar opportunities arose – again from both sides. News took the stories and ran with them. It was the fault of gun legislation and the lack thereof. There should have been this and that. And, in the midst of that, there were reports of the plant manager texting his wife that he loved her as his last act before passing. People took that and ran with it, too.

That plant manager, Josh Pinkard, was my friend. He was my youth pastor while he was a student at Mississippi State University. To his wife, that text was more than a story. His children and parents did not see it as an opportunity to push legislation or deny it. Even as I wipe away tears and type this now, the opportunism stings. I imagine it does for some in Buffalo and Uvalde as well.

It stings for me because it reminds me of the original perpetrator of evil here on the earth: Satan. It is his MO to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He lives for the opportunity to devour and destroy (1 Peter 5:8). He looks for weaknesses to exploit. That’s what he did in the garden, too. He saw an opportunity to tempt Eve, and “her husband who was there with her” (Genesis 3:5) – to exploit on their curiosity and pride and point them toward sin, and the rest of us through that Fall (Romans 5:12). Satan even tried to tempt Jesus Himself when He was physically at His lowest and hungriest (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13), but Jesus did what our original ancestors did not: He held to the Word of God (Psalm 119:9) and resisted the devil (James 4:7).

For the Colossian church, their lack of knowledge gave opportunity for Satan and his false teachers. Remember that this was not a church started by Paul. The churches he started were often accompanied by longer visits filled with teaching and discipleship. This church was started by Epaphras who was saved and brought the gospel back home with him. Now, there were false teachers on all sides prying at the edges of what the Colossian church knew about the gospel and seeking to tear it to shreds with their false gospel. Looking at their struggle and reading how Paul sought to help them can help protect us today. Satan is still on the prowl for such opportunities today. Let us look and see how the same message that Paul gave the Colossian church can help protect us and ours today.

See to It That No One Takes You Captive

That command seems too simple when reading it for the first time. If only it were that easy: do not get captured. We have already looked at how evil the world is today, would that command alone be enough to protect people? Absolutely not. I cannot imagine sending my daughter off with friends or on a church trip and saying, “Hey, you know I love you; don’t get kidnapped.” Negative. Her mother and I have talked and talked and taught and tried to train her to watch out for things – to be wary. We have actually given her a list (a very short list) of people that can be trusted – at the exclusion of every other person on the planet!

Paul does similarly with the Colossian church in today’s passage. He does give the command to guard themselves against capture, but, in doing so, he lists specific dangers – specific captors – who are prowling and wanting to abduct the church from the safety of the gospel and imprison them in damning false gospel.  He even gives them a list of people that they can absolutely trust not to lead them astray with the gospel, but Paul’s list is even shorter than mine: Jesus. It is important to understand this before diving into the various false gospels. It is not as important to understand all of the facets of each area of false teaching; it is important to realize they are “not according to Christ” (v. 8). As we talked about in last week’s Bible study, one must know what the Bible teaches to protect against false teaching.

Paul has already gone to great lengths and, through the Holy Spirit, has given them that beautiful Christological hymn in 1:15-20, but now, again through the Holy Spirit, is going to help them see the danger that is already in their midst.

Philosophy and Empty Deceit

The word philosophy is a compound word in the original language: philo (love) + sophia (wisdom).[2] There have always been people who love wisdom – really who love knowledge and facts and can talk/debate them all day long. The teachings of Plato and Aristotle had been around for nearly 500 years at that point, and their use of logic and discussions running parallel (or added to) religion were fairly widespread. There were people then, like today, who sought to supplement their religion with philosophy. And that sort of false teacher was trying to do that with the gospel among the believers at Colossae.

Think of opportunists who try to ask questions today that are reminiscent of Satan’s question in Genesis 3:1, “Did God actually say ___?” They allow logic and reasoning to allow them to take God’s Word and pick and choose what is correct. What they end up with is very little Bible and mostly what appeases their own intellects and desires. The false teachers appealed to human logic and reasoning to “delude…with plausible arguments” as Paul wrote about earlier in v. 4. Test teachers to see whether they proclaim Christ or argue against His Word (1 John 4:1-6). If you are not in the Word, you are in danger. See to it that you are not captured.

Then, there were those who Paul refers to simply as “empty deceit”, basically empty promises. This could be from a false god or simply promises that take advantage of the church’s lack of biblical knowledge to lead them astray. There are many forms of this today that picture how easy it would have been for the Colossian church, especially since they did not have the Bible like we do today and their lack of discipleship. Think of how many people are hoodwinked by faith healers and prosperity gospel preachers, wicked men and women who stage miracles and perform sleight-of-hand trickery to get rich at the expense of the unhealed and the poor. Think of the people who write books promising hope and health and prosperity under the guise of Christianity or being a preacher who produce disciples whom Hank Williams described in his song “Dust on the Bible”: “not one word of Bible verse, not a Scripture do [they] know”.

God’s Word is full of promises He has made. The Colossian church struggled to tell the difference between the false and empty with the genuine promises of God because they lacked a teacher and the Word. We have access to both today. See to it that you are not captured.

Human Tradition

It is said that the seven words that can kill an organization are we’ve never done it like that before. In the case of the Colossian church, there was a deadlier phrase: we’ve always done it this way. Human tradition is powerful. But, more powerful than tradition is ignorance. How many of our traditions do not go back as far as you think? For example, there is a popular end-times theory that God plans on rapturing His church before the time of tribulation begins. I have heard several people in the last two weeks specifically reference this as what the church has believed for 2,000 years. Yet the earliest known teaching was by a man named John Nelson Darby in the 1830s.[3]

This is going to sound like something an English teacher would say, and, since I am one, I will not argue against it: you need to check your sources. Where are you getting your information? Are your sources using the Bible – all of it and not a few proof-text verses – to get their biblical information, or are they presenting you with opinions. We need to be like the Bereans in Acts 17. They were eager to receive the gospel but not so eager as to take it immediately but were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Again, the Colossian church had limited means to check the sources of the false teachers, but there are so many ways to spend time in God’s Word today that we are without excuse. Often, we are led astray because we want to hear what false teachers are preaching. We would rather believe that God is going to snatch up His church before tribulation starts because that seems nice rather than recognizing that Jesus Himself promised the church that she would have tribulation (John 16:33) and that the Bible teaches that the church has experienced tribulation at the hands of Satan since it began (1 Peter 5:9). See to it that you are not captured.

Elemental Spirits of the World

The word translated “elemental spirits” is actually a word used in the original language to talk about the alphabet or, basically, “elementary principles”.[4] I think John MacArthur gives a good illustration for this: “To abandon biblical truth for empty philosophy is like returning to kindergarten after earning a doctorate”.[5] Basically, Paul is describing trading the gospel of Jesus Christ to childish beliefs or that a childlike mind could make up.

Paul asks a question regarding the elemental spirits later on in v. 20 that can help us see the issue here: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations…?” Why trade Christ for lesser things?

Of course, the difficulty here is that the things of Christ are to be taken on faith. Faith is “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), while the “elemental spirits” can be observed and seen. It is definitely easier to walk outside and feel the warmth of the sun than to understand that Jesus, the Son, “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3) – that while creation reveals the Creator, one is seen and the other requires faith to see His handiwork. But once you have seen His fingerprints in creation, how can you go back. How can you trade the God who is Light Himself (Genesis 1:3, 1 John 1:5-7, Revelation 21:23-26) to worship the sun that could not exist without Him? Yet Satan exploits that opportunity – the desire to see and the difficulty of faith – to make fools out of men who think they are wise when they exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23). See to it that you are not captured.

Wrapping Up

We will continue looking at the way that Paul talks about these false teachings over the next few weeks, and I hope that they help you in your walk with Christ. It is scary to think that there is evil in the world. It is scarier to me to see how we respond to the evil. My pastor reminded us last Thursday night that evil does not win and shared a verse with us, Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This is an important reminder and one that reflects Paul’s writings here in Colossians. He does not give more focus on the dangers than he does to Jesus. If you are “in Christ”, it serves you well to remember that Jesus is God – that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (v. 9). If you are “in Christ”, you have been “filled in Him” (v. 10), that is, His Spirit is in you (1 Corinthians 3:16). Jesus is “the head of all rule and authority” (v. 10) and is “greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

As we looked at in the beginning of today’s Bible study, there are those who would exploit evil situations to give opportunity for their own agendas. But there is opportunity for hope in Jesus Christ, even in the face of such evil and wickedness. There are two passages of Scripture that were referenced in our Bible study that highlighted the evil attacks of Satan and the trouble we have in this world. I want to close by looking at the fuller context of them to show the hope that can be found even in the midst of attack.

  • John 10:10-11: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
  • John 16:33: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Do you see why the context of the Word is so important? We are not left with death and tribulation because life is offered – hope is offered – by Him who has already overcome the world! He does not offer peace by way of legislation or empty promises, He has made “peace by the blood of His cross” (ch 1:20). And He offers that peace to all who would have faith in Him.

I am praying for you, dear Sojourner, that you can find the only peace in the tribulation of this world: Jesus Christ. I am praying that you are in His Word and spending time with Him in prayer. And I pray that you “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1-6) to see what is of God and what is not.

I am thankful for Jesus. And I again echo the cry of John in Revelation 22:20: Come, Lord Jesus!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. 2000. In Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 4:400. Baker’s Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Feldmeth, Nathan P. 2008. In Pocket Dictionary of Church History: Over 300 Terms Clearly and Concisely Defined, 49. The IVP Pocket Reference Series. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

[4] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. 1996. In Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., 1:587. New York: United Bible Societies.

[5] MacArthur, John F., Jr. 1992. Colossians. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press.

Refresh & Restore — May 19, 2022

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. [1]

Colossians 2:6-7


Greetings Sojourners!

Suffering. Over the last few weeks of studying to write these Bible studies, I have found myself thinking about it again and again, and with it a question: is there anything in my life for which I would willingly suffer?

Of course, you can imagine the answers that would receive a willing yes – or at least ones that I would hope to say ‘yes’ to or that I at least should be willing to suffer for: Jesus, family and loved ones. But what is the likelihood that I – in the normal scope of circumstances and the trajectory of my life – would have to be willing to suffer. At most, the things in my life that approach suffering are mere shadows of it or discomforts.

Last week’s passage looked at how Paul suffered on behalf of the church and, more importantly, why he was willing to suffer. First, he found the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:7) to outweigh the discomfort of worldly suffering. But, second, he toiled and struggled to “present everyone mature in Christ” (ch 1:28-29) so that “no one may delude [them] with plausible arguments” (ch 2:4). He was willing to suffer so that the church would grow closer to Christ and be presented “mature” (ch 1:28) – that the church would have the life that the Bible talks about (and live it).

As a pastor and teacher of the Word – as a disciple of Christ who is supposed to be making disciples (Matthew 28:19), that is pretty much the goal: to reach people with the gospel of Christ and help them grow closer to Him. But that leaves me with more questions. I’ll offer them to you as well:

  • Is this a goal (making disciples and helping them mature in their faith) that would drive you to be willing to suffer, or is spiritual maturity something you care about at all?
  • Do the lives of those who profess Christ make everything that Christ has promised His people – the lifestyle and character traits as well as the blessings – seem right and true?

This would be an easy place to turn and bash the church. Bashing, or even just bad-mouthing, the church is a popular activity even among those who claim to be a part of it. I wish I could say that I have not done it, but I have come to realize that how I view – more importantly how I treat – the church, the Bride of Christ, says a lot about me. I cannot imagine someone coming to me to bad mouth Candice. Wrath would be readily available and grace in short supply. The church is to Christ what Candice is to me – and more.

The longer I walk with Christ and the more closely I am grafted into that body through my local church, I find that I have great hope for the church: His name is Jesus. And I pray that He sees fit to use me to help her – to make a difference through the ministry of the local church He’s called me to serve.

But that is never easy. Suffering may be involved. It is good that the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” is more and better than any bad suffering can bring.

I cannot think about people who love and care for the church and who would willingly suffer to see her members grow in maturity without my mind being drawn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (pronounced BON-hoff-er). He was a pastor, a theologian, a teacher, a spy, and later a martyr under the Nazi regime in Germany. His story is now viewed as remarkable, but he would not have thought it so. He pastored and trained pastors, many of whom were imprisoned or martyred by the Nazis themselves. Much of his time and ministry was spent helping young ministers know and grow in Christ.

The aspect of his story that comes to mind here is when his compatriots convinced him to be smuggled to America so that he would be safe and be able to continue to serve God and be active in Kingdom work. When he got to America, things were so much more peaceful than in WWII Germany, but he had no peace. The only Kingdom work he could think about or focus on was back in Germany – back where nothing good awaited him. He fell under the conviction that he had left where God had called him to be. So, he repented. He got smuggled back into Germany where he would eventually be arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in various places until he finally reached the Flossenburg Concentration Camp in Bavaria.

That is the kind of hope that comes only from Christ. The “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” makes every other thing of considerable value to be counted as “rubbish” or dung (Philippians 3:7-8). Knowing Him and seeking His Kingdom is like discovering a treasure worth more than everything you own – worth so much that you would cash it all in to possess it; it is realizing that you have found a relationship with the One whose value so outweighs your own and rejoicing that He loves you despite your unworthiness (Matthew 13:44; Romans 8:31-39).

That is the hope that made Paul willing to suffer and follow Christ’s example and sacrifice. Suffering paled in comparison to seeing others come to know Christ and follow Him. Suffering on earth is temporary, but God’s Kingdom has no end! And that is the hope that I want to help point us to today. If you have “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, you can “walk in Him” by being “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith”.

“received Christ Jesus the Lord”

There are so many ways that people describe what it means to be in Christ – saved, born again, Christ-follower, Christian, etc. Sometimes it can feel like people are speaking Christian-ese or some sort of church language. To a certain extent, those terms are simply biblical ways to describe what happens when people repent of their sins and believe in Jesus, but that also sounds Christian-ese. Then, there are some who use these terms to camouflage their disbelief and navigate the waters of church culture. Even Demas was able to serve alongside Paul, completing “Christian” work until he “in love with this present world” abandoned him to go to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:10).

There are many today who once claimed Christianity but have abandoned the religion – or deconstructed their faith to construct something different in its place. Where I live in the southeastern United States was formerly known as the Bible Belt. There was a church on every corner and everyone seemed to know (at least) about Jesus, but that is not the case anymore. In fact, the predominant worldview in America as of 2021 is “moralistic therapeutic deism” which helps people speak of God generically and hold to whatever beliefs make them feel most comfortable, even attending churches for community when believing none of the Bible’s teachings.[2]

In a world where we sometimes casually speak about Christianity, especially in the church, I think it is helpful for us to look at what Paul means here when he says “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord” (v. 6). Jesus did not die for community. I like the way Jesus Himself put it: He came “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). He is “Jesus Christ the righteous…the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2). He, “being rich in mercy”, came to make those who “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [they] once walked” to be “made…alive together with Christ”, saving them by His grace (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5)! He died – and raised from the dead – for more than shallow religion offers.

Surely Paul would not willingly suffer – much less Jesus die – for people to generically call on Him as a label for their community while denying Him as Savior and Lord. In fact, the Bible speaks to this specifically. Paul clarifies this as a spiritual matter in 1 Corinthians 12:3:

“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

Basically, one cannot decide to accept Christianity while rejecting – essentially saying “to Hell with” – the Christ of Christianity. He is the Lord of the saved and rejected by all others. Romans 10:9, the model for true belief and what it looks like to be in Christ, leaves no room for someone to claim Him without submitting to Him as Lord:

“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Submitting to Him is the confession – not lengthy or difficult doctrines. Confessing to the world that He is your Lord – with your mouth and especially your life – and that you commit to believing what the Bible says about Him, namely His death and resurrection are the hallmarks of being saved. The language is important because it comes from the Bible. It is important because it teaches us how to be saved and, then, what it means to follow Him.

That word “receive” from our passage today is a good indicator of what it means to “be saved” and for Jesus to be one’s “Lord”. In the original language, that word meant “receive with or to oneself what is given, imparted, delivered over…to receive into the mind, be taught”[3]; it meant that something of value had been offered or taught to be implanted and become part of the learner. The message of the gospel tells the truth about man, sin, and gives invitation and opportunity to repent of sin and believe in Jesus – to have faith and trust that He is who His Word proclaims He is and that He will do what He promised, namely bring lost sinners from death to eternal life. For those who get “saved”, they hear this message and respond to its call in repentance and faith, or they remain in their sins by rejecting the message and continuing on unchanged.

To reject the message means it is not received. This is clear. There are people who seek after many religions or philosophies. They would reject the idea that Jesus is who the Bible says He is. But, to “be saved” is to “receive Christ Jesus the Lord” – to believe what the Bible says about Him and live life the Life He gives following His example and commands. This is not a legalistic set of laws but a response of love to Him who loved us and thankfulness toward Him for all He has done and is doing on our behalf (v. 7).

This is a good opportunity, dear Sojourner, to assess whether or not you have received Him.

Jesus Himself speaks about this in His Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’[4]

These words give me pause every time I read them. They do today. Salvation does not fall on me and my works, though. It lies solely on Him. Have I received Him – not just using His name and trying to work in His name? The Bible is clear that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:13) – those that call out to Him to save them, submitting to Him and trusting in Him as Savior.

Paul talks about a difference between the lives of the world and in those who have received or learned Christ in Ephesians 4. He describes those who have not received Christ as walking “in the futility of their minds” rather than walking in Him (Ephesians 4:17). He says that those who have not received Christ are “callous” – hardened due to “sensuality” and practicing all manner of “impurity” (Ephesians 4:19). Then, he issues one of the most chilling litmus tests for believers:

“But that is not the way you learned Christ – assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is with Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24)

Paul – really the Holy Spirit appealing to the church through Paul – does not leave room for one to have “learned Christ” while living like the world. When he talks about “assuming that you have heard about Him”, it chills up my spine as I examine my own life. This is not a question of my perfection or track record – but His!

So, I ask you to examine yourself. Have you “received” Him? If so, He has surely received, saved, loved, and adopted you as His! If not, I invite you to repent and believe!

“rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith,
just as you were taught”

Until one has “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, there is no need to attain for maturity. Knowing Christ is not a class – although there are Bible teachers in churches who are meant to teach you what the Bible says for how to live your life. What I mean is that there is no program to progress through – no degree to attain. If one is not in Christ, he or she is dead. There is no maturity in death, only decay!

I find it interesting that Paul found presenting “everyone mature in Christ” (ch 1:28) as worthy of “struggling with all [Christ’s] energy” (ch 1:29) while all of our – honestly, I am speaking for me and the local church I serve – energy and focus goes elsewhere. We have to constantly be reminded that the Great Commission is about making disciples – not converts. Part of the reason is that making converts seems to be relatively easier – all we have to do is proclaim the gospel; Jesus does the saving!

Making disciples (discipleship) is difficult for us because it takes time. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we can travel somewhere, preach the gospel, and let someone else disciple the converts. But, unfortunately, we have many who profess Christ who no one disciples. They are handed a Bible, often given a job or ministry in the church, and wished good luck on their efforts. No one really took a concerted effort to disciple me until I had already been in ministry for over a decade and had burned out. To think, I was a little offended when an interim pastor approached me in my thirties and asked if I was interested in being discipled and growing in my walk with Christ. I am thankful for the offense, and, now, I seek to offend others in the same way!

I never realized what all it took to disciple someone – to truly labor and desire for their maturity – until a few years ago when my daughter received Christ. I also never fully understood the difficulties. She sees more of my walk with Christ than most anyone else, definitely more than anyone but Christ Himself and Candice. She sees my failings. She sees when I need to repent and whether or not I do. She sees when I read the Word and whether I worship God at home. What I try to teach her from the Word cannot remotely hope to compare to what she sees me living out. It is terribly frustrating at times, but, ultimately, it is a great joy to get to struggle and strive. I cannot imagine being satisfied with my own comfort if she would not be found mature in Him.

Paul did not have a wife or children. He cared that way for the churches he was called to serve. He looked at the Colossian church the way I look at Keri. He did not plant the church there, but the gospel he preached at Ephesus birthed that. Now, as I grow closer to Christ myself and mature to see more of what He has called me to, I understand more of what Paul wanted for the churches – and why he wanted them to be “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as [they] were taught, abounding in thanksgiving”.

Rooted

To be rooted in Christ lies in that foundation – “just as you were taught”. This reminds me of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9. Some of the seed was sown on the hard packed earth of a path and was eaten by birds. Other seeds fell on shallow soil over bedrock; there was not enough depth for roots to develop that would sustain growth. Similarly, some seeds feel among thorns and were choked out. But the seeds that were sown on the good soil developed healthy roots, received all of the nutrients the soil offered, received all of the light and water they needed, and grew into healthy plants that multipled “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:8).

Roots not only provide a means to gain sustenance but also support and strength. Think about how many times following a storm there are large trees whose roots snap off below the ground. The roots were enough to sustain the tree to grow large, but they never developed enough to withstand the pressure that comes with winds and storms. Yet there are very large and extremely old trees that line areas of the Gulf Coast in southern Mississippi. Their branches are gnarly as they have been whipped by hurricane after hurricane. Their branches bear the marks of the wind, but their roots have sustained them and held them safely in the ground.

So it is with Christ. To become mature, you must be rooted in Him. Like the branches of a grape vine have no hope of producing grapes without being attached to their vine, “apart from [Christ] you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The same gospel that brings the invitation to receive Christ also sustains. A Christian will never outgrow the truth of the gospel but, rather, studying and knowing it more means that our roots are dug deep into its good soil. Continuing to study the Word and walk with Christ draws sustenance and leaves us firmly planted in Him.

In the coming weeks of this study, we will look at the winds of false teaching that were attacking the Colossian church. There are similar winds today. The only way to withstand is to be rooted in Christ.

Built Up in Him

What good is a foundation if no one builds on it? What good are roots if there is no tree?

We looked earlier at some of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4. Earlier in that chapter, he spoke to this:

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

Disciples grow as they study God’s Word and put it into practice. That’s right: practice. Too many people have been allowed to profess Christ with their mouths on a single occasion and deny Him with their lives in every moment following it. (This typically cues a chorus of “Thou shalt not judge”.)

Paul illustrated being build up in Christ to the Ephesian church by talking about love being the catalyst. Jesus Himself said that all of the law could be summed up by loving God and loving people (Matthew 22:36-40). Love is an action. Love is a constant choice to remember what God did for us in Christ and to share that with others. Love requires effort. The church is not built with bricks and mortar but with those who have received Christ serving Him and sharing Him with others.

Established in the Faith

This word is more closely related to assurance – that one can know that they have received Christ. To be “established in the faith” is to have the Spirit of God in you, leading and guiding. Honestly, and I am trying not to generalize this too much, if any of the things written about in this Bible study (receiving Christ, being rooted, and being built up/growing in Him) are missing, there is reason for concern, especially receiving Him.

One of the greatest issues for people in the former Bible Belt is false assurance. If someone has been allowed to profess Christianity with no connection to Christ, no fruit for decades, there is little to convince them otherwise. Think back to that chilling warning from Jesus in Matthew 7; there will be people who have claimed Christ in name only who will not be welcomed into eternity with Him. This is why Paul was willing to suffer to see people presented as mature. They were faced either with assurance of faith in Christ or outed as frauds. Demas could only stay with him so long before his love for the world overrode his words.

It is an uncomfortable thing to be confronted with a harsh truth. The harsh reality that your life does not bear fruit of a relationship with Christ offers opportunity for repentance and faith – opportunity to receive Him. But it does no one any good to save their feelings on earth if only to allow them to die and go to Hell. One way is love; the other hate.

Maybe you do not feel as if you are “established in the faith”. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes our trees need pruning. Sometimes we need to be confronted with present sin and repent – to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). But, maybe, you have merely talked the talk. Maybe you learned enough Christian-ese to converse and fit in with the locals.

It is a good thing to be confronted with harsh truths. If you realize that you have never received Christ, it is not too late. The same words that showed us earlier what it means to believe show us how to receive Him now. Romans 10:9-10 says:

“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

There is no better time for such a confession than right now. If you would like to talk, I would love to help you; feel free to reach out any time.

Wrapping Up

I have gone on longer than normal, but I definitely feel that this is important. Anything worth suffering over is worth our attention. And the state of our soul in the face of the holy and righteous God of the universe is worth attention.

I began by talking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and how his repentance led him back to Germany and, ultimately, to Flossenburg Concentration Camp. But I did not tell you what happened to him there.

This is usually the part of the story where something inspirational comes, and that definitely happens here. But nothing comes out of the wings to save Bonhoeffer from the fate one would expect at a concentration camp.

As WWII was drawing to a close – Hitler had already committed suicide and the Third Reich was preparing to surrender, the Nazis still harbored great hatred toward Bonhoeffer. They hated him so much, in fact, that one of their last official actions would be to have him executed rather than letting him go free after the surrender.

The morning of his death, he was not sad. He preached a sermon to people in the camp with a fellow prisoner, a British officer, standing watch and Nazi soldiers waiting to accompany him to his execution. When he finished preaching, he went with them willingly. In the moments before his hanging on the morning of April 9, 1945, he bowed his face to the ground, prayed to the Christ he would meet face-to-face minutes later, and uttered the words: “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”

From an earthly perspective, this seems like such a sad story. But, the longer I walk with Christ, it is a story of hope. How could a man not fight against his executioners? How could he proclaim the gospel truth to his killers on his way out of this world? Hope. Hope in Christ that comes from being “rooted and built up and established in the faith”. Hope that comes from receiving Christ Jesus the Lord.

I cannot boast of great courage like that in my future. I can boast only in Christ and the hope He gives me now.

I pray He gives the same and more to you.

Hallelujah, and amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Barna, George. Rep. American Worldview Inventory 2021, Release #02: Introducing America’s Most Popular Worldview – Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Glendale, AZ, 2021.

[3] Zodhiates, Spiros. 2000. In The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, electronic ed. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Refresh & Restore — April 28, 2022

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.[1]

Colossians 1:15-23


Greetings Sojourners!

I have thoroughly enjoyed working our way through the Colossian hymn. It has been good for my heart to focus so intently on who the Bible says Jesus is. There are so many things vying for lordship and supremacy in my life that it is good to be reminded – and to be reminded often – that Jesus is God, that He is supreme over everything He has created, that He is the head of His Church, that everything that is or has ever been comes from and is held together by Him, and that in love He reconciles sinners to Himself “by the blood of His cross” (v. 20).

I have tried to bring us back to “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16) as to introduce each devotion as we have walked through this section of Colossians. But today’s passage is different. Colossians 1:15-20 is clearly the hymn; 1:21-23 is more of a transition out of the hymn back into the letter. The more I thought about how to frame this passage, the more my mind has been drawn toward the idea of an invitation to respond to the Word and the Spirit.

The idea of an invitation from God to man is seen throughout the Bible – in both the Old and New Testaments. As far back as Genesis 6:18, we see God establishing a covenant with Noah and inviting him and his family into the ark in the face of sure judgment all around. God invites his covenant people Israel through his prophets; look at Isaiah 55:1: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” And my favorite comes from Jesus Himself in Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

In all of those instances, you see a God who needs nothing offering aid to people who are in need. Noah and his family – and thereby the entire human race – would have died without God’s ark.

Isaiah caps off his prophecies about the Suffering Servant – Jesus – in chapters 53 and 54 with an invitation for people to receive the Servant and the benefits He brings.

And, when I read Jesus’ words from Matthew 11, I feel them deep within my soul. I know He was talking to a specific group of people when He spoke those words, but I am heavy laden in need of rest. I need to shirk that yoke and learn from Jesus. It is good news of the highest order to be invited by my King whose heart is “gentle and lowly” enough to condescend from Glory to give rest to a wretched sinner such as me if I come to Him.

The church heritage that I belong to – as does the church where I am blessed to serve, Christ Community – offers invitations at the end of sermons to respond to the Word as it has been preached. We believe that the Holy Spirit prompts both the preacher and the one responding to do so. I love the way my pastor introduces this time. He does not seek to play on emotions or to draw in masses. He reminds people that “this is [their] time”, theirs and Gods, to respond to what is preached. There are aspects that are specific to the day’s particular passage, but he always – always – makes sure to offer an invitation for people to come to Jesus.

As with the rest of this section, a hymn comes to mind. Look at this words, and ponder their meaning before we dive into today’s text:

“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore. Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love, and power.

“Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome, God’s free bounty glorify; true belief and true repentance, every grace that brings you nigh.

“Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall; if you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all.”[2]

Invitation 1: Be Reconciled to God

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him…. (vv. 21-22)

Here we find the word “reconcile” that we focused on in the last Bible study in this series. It means “to restore harmony or friendship between two entities formerly divided”.[3] I mentioned that this word is often used to describe a relationship that was once in turmoil but now set aright. In the case of man and God, today’s passage gives a clearer picture as to just how much it meant for Jesus to make “peace by the blood of His cross” (v. 20).

Because of our sin, our default position is not friendship with God. I hear a lot of people say things like “we are all God’s children” and that everyone is basically good. I believe that people mean well when they say those things, but neither of those statements fit what the Bible says (Romans 3:10, 23; Galatians 4:4-5), and they actually make it seem like Jesus really did not need to die on the cross because humanity basically had this whole thing in check without Him.

Today’s passage clarifies that, because of our sin, we – that is everyone not in Christ – were “alienated” and “hostile in mind, doing evil deeds”. Both of these descriptions fit with Paul’s writing to the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 2:1-3, he describes just how hostile we were and what our evil deeds produced in our lives:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Then, in Ephesians 2:12, we get a picture of our being alienated from Him by our sin: “…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

Just so we do not miss the weight of the seriousness of sin the Holy Spirit through Paul described it as producing death, following after Satan, being a child of wrath, being separated from Christ, and having no hope because we were without God. We had relationship troubles – as in, our relationship to Him was as His enemy (Romans 5:9-10). And the turmoil in our relationship was our fault. It wasn’t Him, it was us.

It still blows my mind that God could love a sinner such as me. I find it hard to believe that He would reconcile with me. I didn’t (and still don’t) deserve it. Yet, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It is the testimony of every believer that our life is “live[d] by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]” (Galatians 2:20). He loved me and paid the debt my sin produced – death (Romans 6:23) – so that I could live. He made His enemy His friend.

Look at the good news that followed both sections we just looked at in Ephesians! Right after he revealed that our trespasses and sins made us dead, he said (Ephesians 2:4-5): “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved….” There is perhaps no better news one could hear than death having been reversed. And He is the only One who has or can reverse it.

He also has good news for our alienation (Ephesians 2:13): “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” This is a much more beautiful picture than we realize. That word “alienation” means “to estrange, alienate entirely”[4]. That word “estrange” is not used in everyday language like it once was. It is the word that describes a husband or wife who has left their spouse. So, to be an estranged husband or wife is to be a spouse who has essentially decided that the relationship is over. But, rather than cutting us off, God chose reconciliation. He, “in His body of flesh by His death”, brought us near “in order to present [us] holy and blameless and above reproach before Him”. That is similar to the language that Paul uses to describe the love husbands should have for their wives – the same love that Christ has for His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27):

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

God loved His estranged Bride enough to reconcile – to cleanse and restore her. That is a powerful image that illustrates the powerful love He has. And it is that love that He offers.

So, this is your time. If you examine your life and know that you are dead in your trespasses and sins – that you are far off from God and desire to be brought near, the invitation is clear. Repent of your sin and believe upon Him who loves like no other. Ask Him whose mercy and grace are offered in place of His wrath to save you. Romans 10:9 tells us “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” The invitation is extended. Come, ye sinner, poor and needy. Come to Him.

Invitation 2: Continue in the Faith

…if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (v. 23)

Often, invitations are directed primarily toward people who are not yet saved. But that is not the case in Scripture. Any time that God’s Word exhorts – encourages, warns, commands – us to do something, that is an opportunity to respond. Will we do what the Word says, or will we try to remain willfully ignorant or simply disobedient? The way Paul closes this section does not seem to list those as options. He moves directly from talking about God presenting those who He has reconciled as “holy and blameless and above reproach before Him” to saying “if indeed you continue in the faith”.

Now, I want to clarify before I continue what I am and what I am not saying. I am not saying that not being perfect after being saved is how we know we have been saved. If that was the case, there has not ever been a saved person, except maybe the thief on the cross since he was in paradise moments after Jesus promised that as his destination (). 1 John 2:1-2 makes the position of the saved clear:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins….

But, looking at the way Paul worded this statement, there does seem to be an expectation – or at least a way to know if one is continuing in the faith.

This is usually where people begin touting “Thou shall not judge”. This ain’t that. I am inviting you – actually the Word is inviting you to examine your own life.

Are you continuing in the faith? Do you consider your faith “stable and steadfast”? Is your hope firmly fixed on Jesus as proclaimed in the gospel, or is it shifting because your worldly hopes fail and fall away?

If you are like me, your answers vary from time to time on these questions. My sin still causes issues in my life. My faith is more “stable and steadfast” when I am fully relying on God in the midst of a particularly difficult season of life. The hope I have in Christ transcends anything this world can offer.

To continue in the faith is probably illustrated best in Jesus’ words in John 15:4-6:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Continuing in the faith means that you have placed your faith, your hope, in Jesus – what He has done, is doing, and has promised to do according to His Word. We are to be as dependent on Him for life as the branches of a grape vine are to the vine itself. Those branches are either connected, or they are not. Once a branch falls to the ground, it looks alive for a brief moment, but it doesn’t take long before the reality of its death is apparent.

Is the new life that comes from Christ evident in your life? Not perfection. Not imitation, either. Does your life bear the fruit of His life in you? Is it evident that you are His?

These are difficult questions. They are tough and sometimes frightening. I have been saved for twenty years, and I still find myself doubting. But those doubts are always with me, not Him. You see, I sometimes try to alienate myself because of some sin I have committed. The difference is that I am never “without hope and without God in the world” anymore; I never will be again because He has reconciled me.

What about you?

This is your time. Whether you have been saved twenty years or two years or eighty, examine your life. Paul ended v. 23 with a testimony to say that he “became a minister” due to the gospel – the good news – of what Jesus has done, the faith in Him that came from it, and the bedrock foundation of hope that can only be experienced in Him. Come, ye sinner, poor and needy. By the riches of His merit, there is joy and life in Him!

Wrapping Up

Getting to sit under the teaching of God’s Word is a valuable thing and not to be taken lightly. It is easy to fall into thinking that an invitation to respond to the Word is for those who are not yet saved or those who have not responded before. But they are for whomever the Spirit prods. I love the refrain, the chorus, of the hymn I have been referencing throughout today’s Bible study:

“I will arise and go to Jesus. He will embrace me in His arms. In the arms of my dear Savior, oh, there are ten thousand charms.”

Know this, beloved Sojourner, the beauty of invitations to come to Christ lie not in the offer. They lie in what we find when we truly come to Him. He is the reward. He is our hope. He is our help. He will surely save.

So, I urge you: come to Him.

This is your time.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 1:15–23.

[2] “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” — Jean Jacques Rousseau | Joseph Hart © Words & Music: Public Domain

[3] Barbara E. Bowe, “Reconciliation,” ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1112.

[4] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).