In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.

Ephesians 1: 13

 

When we come to accept the salvation for our souls that Christ brings to us, there is a mark placed upon us by God. It is a bit like a trademark or a seal that signifies the place where we were made and tells the world whose hands did the making. Christianity is so much more than just a belief system. It isn’t a membership, for claiming Christ means accepting the fact that a very active and totally involved Creator God is going to work inside of you to transform what had been a flawed and fatally broken person into one who is righteously living out his or her God-image bearing nature.

 

The seal of the Holy Spirit is much more than just a mark signifying ownership or even craftsmanship; for it is also the mark of a promise. God made a commitment to all people that He would defeat evil in our lives and in our world, and it would happen in that order. He has given each and every person on this earth the answer to that personal victory, and we are, therefore, granted the means to gain the victory in our lives. When we accept Him, the Spirit of Christ moves into our hearts to bring the love of the Creator into residency there, He begins to change our minds into ones that grasp the truth of God’s righteousness, and He works ceaselessly to move us out of the grip of sin and into the joy of the Lord’s freedom.

 

Thus, God’s promise to us becomes the beginning point for living in the fullest realization of our own potential. Every person who has ever lived and who will exist on this earth has been created by the hand of God and is formed with the image of the Creator as the template for formation. Through the work of the Spirit in us, we are shaped and molded into people who are finally free to fulfill the limitless promise that God designed into us. This is all accomplished through the strength of Christ, not through any might or force of personal will, and it occurs as we surrender ourselves fully to Christ, and in so doing, we enter into this process of transformation that is God’s promise of redemption to each of His people.

 

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If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12: 18

 

This statement is about as conditional as Paul ever gets, for he rarely leaves this much to our own discretion and understanding of the situation. Yet, here in this proverbial saying that is placed within a string of similar expressions, we are told to do something “If possible.” So, whose possibility is to make that determination? If it is mine, then there may be very few times when I am really going to live peaceably with people who rub me the wrong way, or hold views about issues that differ from mine, or come from a different cultural background than mine. The possibility for exception to that directive to live peaceably gets to be very long quite quickly, and the list of people with whom I am living in peace becomes short enough that I can readily handle it on my own.

 

Perhaps that is really the point. God’s desire for us in all aspects of life is that we would let go of control and surrender all of it to Him. So, in this very challenging area of relationships with other people, God is giving us the option of releasing our grip upon the rules for acceptance or rejection of others or of holding onto them so that we manage the way that we interact with the human elements of our world. To me, this places the idea of possibility into an entirely different light. It says that my relational boundaries and barriers can be either as narrow as my own definitions and comfort or they can be as expansive and inclusive as are God’s. This is the real choice that Paul is proposing to us, and it is one that he had entered into, himself, as a significant aspect of Paul’s coming to Christ involved the reordering of his view of God’s mission for him in relation to accepting or persecuting people who viewed their relationship with God differently than did Paul, the Pharisee.

 

It seems to me that entering fully into the possibilities in connecting with and caring about and for others is predicated upon surrender to Christ. The more of myself that I give over to my Lord in submission to His will, the more likely it is that I will see the lovable and the beautiful in people who would otherwise make me uncomfortable or worse. There is no one on this earth who Christ cannot love. There are no people for whom He did not die in order to redeem them from the death that belongs to all who are born into this world. So, there should be very few people who I am unable to care about and to love with a similar passion and redemptive desire. Now, I am not Christ, and all of this depends upon the response of others in order for me to be able to live peaceably with them, but, in so far as I am able to impact the outcome of the interaction, I can yield my attitudes, actions, and responses to Christ with my heart and mind set upon doing all that I can to enter into productive life together with all of the people that God grants me the gift of encountering during my days.

Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a pledge.

2 Corinthians 5: 5

 

Promises, promises, promises; our lives are interlaced with commitments received and given, others that are kept or broken, and trust or lack of it that is developed through these interactions. Sometimes people fail to keep their pledges because they honestly tried yet failed to follow through. Other people can be disingenuous or even deliberately deceitful; and circumstances can conspire to defeat our best intentions. Additionally, we all know that governments and large corporate entities often lack the sort of fundamental integrity that makes their word good; at least that is how it too often seems.

 

Here, Paul gives us a promise from God that we can truly count on, for this is one that we can stake our lives upon. In the verses just before this one Paul has been discussing the fact that this life is filled with pain, struggles, and hardship and that the very fabric of our earthly existence is flawed, failing, and will be destroyed. He also has shared with us the fact that, in Christ, this is actually a good, hopeful, and desirable state of affairs. As the old person with our sin damaged and ravaged makeup is set aside and surrendered to the transformative work of Christ in and on us, we begin to be reformed into the new beings that God has planned for us to be. This process will not be completed in this life, and it is, at best, just a preview of the glory that we will know in eternity with Christ. Yet, God promises this new relationship with Him and this new life in His complete presence to everyone who accepts His gift of salvation through Jesus.

 

Throughout the history of human interaction with God, He has continually provided us with a clear picture of His intent to have an active and ongoing relationship with us, and the Lord has made the sincerity of His intentions known to us by making promises to us. This is another of those promises. Here God has done more than give His word. Here God has provided His presence in our lives as a tangible sign that functions much like the earnest money that we put down when we commit to make a major purchase such as a house. The Spirit of God is with us throughout our lives, and He is an ever present and very tangible reminder of the fact that God has promised to never leave us in this life, and He helps us to see and to hope for the promise of our eternal future.

 

Now, I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all

His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.

Daniel 4: 37

 

Here are the words of one of the most accomplished men to ever walk on the face of the earth. He had empire, position, and wealth. Anything that he commanded was done without question, and Nebuchadnezzar had been able to surround himself with splendid buildings that were monuments to his leadership and power. Still, God wanted something else from him, and the Lord continued to pursue him with a relentlessness that was even greater than King Nebuchadnezzar’s desire to build monuments. God spoke to him, He provided human testimony, and compelling examples of His might and sovereignty. Yet, Nebuchadnezzar’s pride was strong, and he continued to know who God was, but he didn’t submit to the Lord and so actually know Him.

 

So, God humbled the great man. The Lord took him quite literally to his knees, and forced him to depend totally on the protection of others and on the grace of God. Thus, these words are the deeply felt utterance of a man who has plummeted from the peak of his own success to the depths of living in a pasture, and who has been restored totally by God’s unending love and total grace. This is the story of an ancient king that applies to our world as much as it did then, and it is a story of how God continues to work in the lives of everyone regardless of station, status, or rank.

 

There is almost no one alive who does not deal with issues of pride and self-sufficiency. We are made so that survival and even dominance are wired into us, and we are taught and trained to seek after the results of our efforts that would seem to provide the highest degree of worldly success. Yet, these results are not always what honors God, and they are not usually the way that our Lord would have us travel through life as followers of Christ. Now most of us do not require as dramatic an experience as the one that Nebuchadnezzar underwent in order to relent, repent, and turn away from our own way. However, God is ready and willing to do whatever it might take to get our attention and to cause us to turn toward Him in humble submission to His will and in willingness to serve His kingdom in whatever way the Lord desires. If we are open to hear, Christ does speak His will to us, and as we surrender to His will, He empowers our service in the name of the Lord.

Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.

1 Peter 4: 1

 

Purpose is an interesting thing to consider, for it influences everything that we do. We carry it with us each day of our lives. Purpose helps to set people apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, and its expression is one of the most important things that we have the privilege to do. When we purpose to do or to be something, we are exercising our greatest degree of control over the conduct of life, and it is a major contributor to our sense of freedom; thus, taking away the ability to make such personal determinations is a device that oppressors frequently use.

 

Jesus was fully aware of the sort of pain and anguish that He would endure while He was living among us as a man. Yet, from the very beginning of Creation, He planned for that time and He prepared to take on the suffering that needed to come His way. Even for Christ, this wasn’t easy. He still needed to set His mind, heart, and spirit in focused determination to follow the Father’s will and to do what He was called to do. The purposeful suffering of Christ has provided each of us with the possibility of escape from the oppressive tyranny of sin, and for Jesus, giving each of us this opportunity was more than satisfactory motivation to take it all on.

 

We, also, need to make up our minds and set our hearts on living in full acceptance of the great gift that Christ has given to us. We are still required to make the decision to suffer and to endure the pain and difficulty that will come our way through following Jesus. The real struggle, the one where the forces of Hell were brought to bear and focused on one man at a singular moment, is completed. We are asked to take account of our old, comfortable ways, and the fearful, protective, and defensive attitudes that we hold onto; then, we need to purpose to hang them on the cross of Jesus. If we will take one issue, thought, or attitude that is separating us from the full and total fulfillment of God’s will for us and recognize that Jesus has already suffered in order to put this one thing to death and surrender that part of our comfort to Christ, then we will be walking more fully in the center of Christ’s righteous will.

 

Let all the earth fear the LORD;

Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!

Psalm 33: 8

 

Growing up involves a process in which we are granted progressively more and greater permission. Early in life people need to ask others, usually parents, for permission to do almost everything from the most basic of activities such as eating and drinking to the more complex ones like visiting a neighbor or purchasing clothing. Over time, with maturity and the growth of personal capacity, this need to seek permission becomes less and less prevalent and each of us becomes responsible for making these decisions on our own. So, when the writer of this psalm speaks in terms that suggest permission and restraint when it comes to engagement with God, exactly who is doing those things?

 

Although there are voices around us that speak in negative terms regarding God and who hold up faith in Him to ridicule, these people are not exercising control over anyone. In some places, open expression of belief in Christ is dangerous or at least it is strongly opposed, but these places are rather rare, and it is still possible to believe in Christ in the darkest of these cultures. Then there is personal choice, a desire to seem popular and current, and a prideful unwillingness to surrender or to yield to the authority of another, and I believe that reasons like this are the primary ones that restrain us from following the direction in this psalm. This is true when the faith is at the fundamental level of acceptance of Christ, and it is also true when that faith is being exercised by people who claim to follow the Lord but still choose to submit to Him and to His Word on a selective basis.

 

So, it would seem that the only permission we need to engage fully in a relationship with God is granted by ourselves; thus, the restraint that comes into play here is also self-generated. The Lord does not place restrictions or limits on His involvement with people, and He does not reject us when we seek to turn to Him. We hold back, and we restrain ourselves and those around us from full-on surrender to Christ. There is no other factor or force that is stopping each of us from open and continual worship of the Lord. You and I can grant ourselves permission to make this day one in which we truly stand in awe, amazement, and reverent, hands-held-on-high expression of the joy that comes by and through the reality of Christ in our lives. Thus, I grant myself permission to live out this day as one where my head is held up and my voice sings out praises to Christ’s love and wherein my actions portray the grace that He has granted to me.

 

 

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated by the Spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3: 16

 

Godly living is not easy, and it is also not for the faint of heart. Operating in a manner that reflects God in our world and that also brings people into His presence with a desire to know that Holy One requires people to do things in ways that are unnatural and that are equally outside of the norms of our experience and the practice of our culture. Simply stated, love, grace, mercy, peacemaking, and righteousness are not the general standards for successful living that we encounter on a regular basis. Yet, they are in short supply in the marketplace of our world, and they are needed and desired by most of us. These qualities are a part of the nature of God, and they were made tangible and given human form in Jesus. In Jesus, God stepped into humanity’s lostness and need, and He provided the singular answer to it all while also paying the enormous price that the redemption of Creation demanded.

 

Christ is the image of what godliness means. He provided for us the model to follow, but that is not where this all stops, for a model would be insufficient by itself. God’s Law provided a form of that, and it was never enough to bring people into the reality of living out this thing that we are calling godliness on any sort of lasting and consistent basis. Unfortunately, an image of God is still not much more than an idol if it remains on the outside of our beings and can be set aside or manipulated as we desire. Even the best of images does not penetrate the heart to the place where real relationships are formed, and God operates in our world at the deep level of relationship. This is where His truth becomes the guiding force in our lives. That is why godliness is revealed in relationships and it is explained through engagement in people’s lives.

 

God broke through the barriers that humanity had set up between our Creator and us. He did so in the person of Jesus and perfected it by Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. Now all of Creation is speaking out in testimony to the One Risen Lord who brings God’s salvation and redemption to all of that same Creation. In so doing, He brings this new life to each of us who believe in Him, and He enters into our lives and works to transform us into people who live in relationship with our Creator. It is in this relationship and through the work of the Spirit within us that we are changed into people who can live in this rare and highly valued manner that is described as godliness. This manner of engagement with our world requires that we surrender ourselves to Christ on a daily, hourly, and continual basis. All of life is His. There are no holdbacks or reserves to maintain as we serve the Risen Lord. It is through this submitted service that the mystery of godliness is made visible in our world so that others may be drawn to seek its source in a relationship with Christ.