“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16, NLT).
I’ve always been a Spiderman fan. I owned a couple of Spidey comic books as a girl and read them over and over (I wish I still had them—they’d be worth a lot of money). When the movies came out, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Peter Parker, Mary Jane and villains like Doc Ock come to life. For you non-Spidey fans, Peter received his power from a spider bite and was transformed from an average teenager into an amazingly strong super being.
That’s fantasy of course. In real life no one has super powers. We all have to get along with our natural human strength and most of us have enough of that to function. The strength we more often lack but desperately need is on the inside. Inner strength is what helps us hold on to honesty and integrity in the face of temptation or the scorn of those who feel we should behave as badly as they. It’s what helps us keep going in the face of adversity. But we can’t manufacture much of that on our own. True, lasting inner strength comes from God the strong One, through the Holy Spirit who empowers us as we stay connected to Jesus—no spider bites necessary.
“We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us” (Romans 8:23b, NLT).
In ancient Roman times, a young man came of age when his father decided he was ready, at which time he was fully adopted as a son and given all the rights and privileges of an heir. Until that time, he was no better than a slave, had no freedoms and made no decisions. No doubt boys looked forward to the celebration and realization of their entry into adulthood.
Christians, by virtue of being united with Christ, are already God’s sons and daughters, but as I’ve mentioned before, we realize this in a now-but-not-yet way. We are a bit like the Roman boys who, though members of the family, were still under the protection and authority of their fathers and didn’t yet function as adults, even as older teenagers. Our adoption by a loving Father is already final, and with eager hope and anticipation, we have many good things to look forward to, including bodies as glorious as that of the risen Christ.
“And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering” (Romans 8:23a, NLT).
Appetizers are a great way to start a meal, but are small, so even though they can be satisfying to some extent, they often leave you wanting more. These little bits of food are no substitute for a substantial meal and are only meant to tease the appetite and stimulate hunger.
The Holy Spirit is our appetizer for the wonderful future God has in store for us. He reassures us of God’s great love and mercy and testifies to our spirits about Jesus, who is Truth. The peace, comfort and glimpses of glory he gives us leave us wanting more and remind us this life isn’t all there is. A time is coming when we’ll have new bodies, live on a new earth and will never cry again. Appetizers aren’t meant to fully satisfy, but they do hold the promise of much more to come. We’ll just have to keep waiting in delicious anticipation for not just the meal, but dessert too!
“The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him” (Ephesians 1:14, NLT).
Most things we buy come with a guarantee. Some are touted as total satisfaction or your money back. Others are limited. A lot of them have fine print which can translate as “good luck getting anything from us.” I’ve rarely used a product guarantee, but especially for the larger ticket items, it’s nice to have.
Some wonder how they can be sure God will do what he says. He knew we’d be skeptical so one of the reasons he sent the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of anyone who accepts his grace and forgiveness was to help us trust him. The Spirit, who is God, testifies to our spirits, just as in a court of law, to the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and the certainty of the inheritance we receive in him. We all have doubts from time to time, but when we do, the Holy Spirit is there to reassure us God’s guarantee is made of gold and has no fine print.
“Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God,for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan” (Ephesians 1:11, NLT).
It’s amazing how much controversy can come out of five little words, but that’s what has happened with the phrase, “he chose us in advance.” I’m not going to get into it here, except to quote author Donald Fairbairn in Life in the Trinity, page 197: “I suggest that it is inappropriate to think in sequential terms about concepts that do not pertain to time.” He suggests “relating predestination, foreknowledge and free human actions to one another” is not a simple black and white issue, rather part of “God’s eternal decision to honor his own relationship with his beloved Son and his Spirit by bringing people into that relationship” (page 198).
As with other deep things of God, we don’t know the details and should probably stay away from dogmatic statements, but there is one thing we do know: his plan will succeed. The great I AM, who created the heavens and the earth and breathed his Spirit into us who are made in his image, will not fail in his grand design of redemption for humankind. He has already made it happen in Christ and nothing will prevent, thwart or frustrate what he has accomplished in his beloved Son.
“For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us” (1 Thessalonians 5:9, NLT).
The Bible talks a lot about God’s anger and many people choose to focus on it more than his love. Evangelism is often based on fear of his anger and the punishment to come. We joke about being struck by lightning for doing something wrong. Because of the conditioning we’ve all received, even some who haven’t given God much thought for most of their lives worry what will happen after death as a result of their bad behavior.
God does get angry but it doesn’t define who he is. God is love. Everything he does comes out of his love, including showing anger. He’s not like us. He doesn’t lose his temper or lash out uncontrollably or spend lots of time planning out the most painful way to torture sinners. Even those who all their lives defy, denigrate and turn their backs on him will be dealt with according to his love. To believe otherwise is to believe the lie that God is two-faced, capricious and as human as we are. God is love and he never acts out of character, something we can all be eternally thankful for.
“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus'” (Romans 15:5, NLT).
For several years, I sang in a choir. I was a soprano, which was easy as we usually had the melody. I loved listening to the altos, tenors and basses as they brought in the harmonies. The various parts turned a simple tune into a living, breathing dynamic thing of beauty. I was glad I had the melody as I had such a difficult time holding onto harmonies.
Singing in a choir is a bit like life—each of us has a part to sing. Sometimes it sounds wonderful, with voices blending and everyone holding their notes. At other times, notes go flat or sharp, some wander from their part and some sing their own tune with no regard for what’s on the page. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit live in perfect harmony and want the same for us. He gives us patience and encouragement because it takes both to live together in peace and unity. God’s harmony transforms our sometimes discordant jumble of parts into the beautiful music of life in the Spirit.
“I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!'” (Lamentations 3:24, NLT).
Do you buy lottery tickets in the hope of winning the big jackpot? Maybe you dream of a long lost uncle who dies and leaves you his vast estate and millions of dollars. It’s not unusual to wish for more money—we look at the rich and think life must be so easy and wonderful for them. But money doesn’t solve all problems, sometimes it makes things worse. Some who hit the jackpot end up right back where they started—broke and miserable.
Our best hope isn’t in lottery tickets or rich uncles but in God who is our true inheritance. The riches we have in him now and in the future are the only riches that will make us happy. His abundant grace and mercy help us live guilt free and his Spirit in us helps us extend that grace and mercy to others, enriching everyone around us. The riches we’ll experience in eternity with him are beyond our imagination, but so much better than anyone could ever dream of. It’s fine to buy a lottery ticket, but as you do, remind yourself: The Lord is my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him!
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT).
A lot of people believe God’s plan for humanity involves only two things: going to heaven if you’re good and going the other way if you’re not. If you’re good, he’s the kindly, bearded old man with goodies for you and if you’re bad, he’s the judge, jury and executioner. But God is not shallow, capricious or temperamental. He’s a real being, with deep thoughts and great love for his creation.
Just as God reassured the captives in Babylon, he also reassures us that his plan does not simply revolve around rewarding the “good” folks and punishing the “bad.” He truly cares about each of us, who we are, our hopes and dreams and our relationships with him and the people we love. His plan for us was and is a good future and a bright, shining hope—Jesus, the hope of eternity for everyone.
“All glory to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us” (Revelation 1:5b, NLT).
Everyone wants to be free—free to do what they want, to be who they are, to express themselves with no restrictions. To many people, the freedom to do as they please includes doing things they know are wrong, but as long as no one gets hurt, they reason it’s not a problem. But there is a problem because sin always hurts someone either immediately or at some point in time. That’s why God hates it.
Jesus shed his blood to free us from sin and its consequences, which is enormous for us. But what are we to do with that freedom? It’s not license to sin as some have posited. The freedom we receive in Christ allows us to really live—to love and be loved without guilt or fear; to be in fellowship with God; to be under grace, not the constant fear of punishment; to be God’s adopted children and to find our significance in him, not in any of the inconsequential trappings of this fleeting life. This is true freedom and true love—God’s freedom and love, given to us in Jesus.