Monday, March 29, 2010

Reflections on Easter Week

My reflections each Easter season tend to be pretty consistent. As I mull the significance of Palm Sunday, the march to the cross, Christ’s passion, and then resurrection morning, I always zoom in on Peter. I’ve mentioned before that of all the characters mentioned in Scripture, Peter is the one with whom I most self identify. I would rather be like Ruth or Joseph. But like it or not, I’m like Peter. I have had a lifelong problem with my mouth working faster than my brain. Peter had the same problem. God has worked on me for years to shut my mouth, listen, and think before I speak. But as I read each negative situation in which Peter managed to get himself, I can see me doing the exact same thing.

Though I haven’t sworn to the face of Jesus that I would never deny Him, I know had I been given Peter’s circumstances, I would have likely followed the exact same path he did in the hours leading up to the cross. I would vehemently affirm my unending loyalty to Jesus to His face. Then when put under pressure and fearing the outcome, I would deny Him. I know I would because I watch what I do in the privacy of my own head and my own journal. I swear allegiance to Jesus my King. Then when issues heat up my life, I have moments of both anger and doubt.  “I can’t believe this?!! How am I supposed to trust You? You are not working for my good!” At least Peter never said those kind of things. Though I never say these things in front of others, God knows my anger and doubt, as does the realm in heavenly places. I didn’t deny Christ to people in front of me sitting around a firepit. I just did it in front of Satan and his demons. It rarely takes long for Jesus to figuratively catch my eye as He did Peter’s. And, like Peter, I weep bitterly at my lack of faith. Why couldn’t I endure?!!

So the image of Jesus coming to Peter after the resurrection means much to me. As someone who has denied Jesus in my own heart enough to know the turmoil Peter must have felt in that moment, I love the thought of Peter’s eyes meeting Jesus’ for the first time after the resurrection. And I praise God that Jesus doesn’t condemn Peter. He is SO GRACIOUS with Peter. Before all of this, Jesus had told Peter He was going to build His church on Peter the rock. And after Peter’s denial, Jesus comes to him in affirmation that His plans for Peter have not changed. I weep as I write this. Nothing had changed. God’s purposes for Peter were still on track! And then Jesus spends precious time before His ascension reaffirming His plans for Peter. Do you love me? Yes. Then feed my sheep.

Christ’s interaction with Peter before, during, and after the crucifixion epitomizes gospel grace to me. I know the theological language for all Christ accomplished for me on the cross. But watching it play out between Jesus and Peter in the gospels (and then reading on into Acts and the epistles to see what Peter became and taught in consequence) puts a face on it for me. Peter earned nothing and nearly squandered everything. But though Jesus knew Peter would betray Him, He loved him anyway, pursued him with His grace, and affirmed to him His purposes for him. And this same Jesus loves, pursues, and affirms you and I. To the praise of His glorious grace.

Here is a great message from Palm Sunday by my pastor, entitled King on a Donkey. This Easter week, I hope you like me will find sustaining joy in the vision of the King of the Universe coming, not on a war horse, but on a donkey with a posture of peace to draw you to Himself through His gospel grace. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ephesians Bible Study Now Available

It has been a long journey to bring my Ephesians Bible study, By His Wounds You Are Healed:  How the Message of Ephesians Transforms a Woman's Identity, to print.  After posting on my journey to self publication, Moody Publishers contacted me and were genuinely interested in the study. In the end, they passed on it, but they gave me encouraging feedback that has grown my respect for them and their ministry. Furthermore, their encouragement got me over some of the hurdles I described in the earlier post on the issue of self publishing. Basically, they affirmed the content but felt the format wouldn't sell well for them. They are right. This is a straightforward Bible study that walks through Ephesians. It is relational in tone and very practical with its applications. But it is still a pure Bible study. Lifeway Press has had success with those types of studies, but other publishers have not. I can respect that. I personally think there is interest in Biblically sound expositional studies of Scripture geared to women (especially those from a reformed perspective), but someone has to prove it first before the publishing industry will embrace it, in my opinion.

All that to say, By His Wounds You Are Healed: How the Message of Ephesians Transforms a Woman's Identity is available today. It can be purchased through Createspace, the Amazon subsidiary that is publishing it.  It should be available through Amazon in about two weeks.  I'll post that link when it happens.  At some point, it should also be available at other online retailers and maybe some bookstores. I'm still figuring out how that works.

The good thing about self publishing is that you have complete control over the project. This allowed me to follow a different format from the standard trade paperback. Based on feedback I received from many of you, it is an 8 x 10 workbook with room to journal. It also includes Discussion Questions at the end for use in group studies (or private study depending on whether that is helpful to you). It's a hybrid -- hopefully equally suited for private and group study.  I am excited about releasing it. If this format works, I hope to write one on I Peter as well. We'll see.

I have 5 free copies to send out in my meager attempts at self promotion (which just is not my cup of tea). If you are interested in reading it and posting a review please let me know in the comments section. If you don't feel free to leave your contact information there, you can also email me at theologyforwomen@gmail.com. I will not share your contact information with anyone.  I'll send the workbooks to the first 5 requests I get. 

Thanks for your interest in this blog and my books.  Your feedback and encouragement helped cement the design of this study.  May it be helpful to you as you walk forward daily in the tension between all that God has accomplished on the cross and the sin and pain that remain a factor in our daily lives.  By His wounds, you are healed.

**Update**
The 5 free copies went pretty fast.  Thanks so much for your interest!!  If you want to purchase a copy, you can use coupon code 8A3M6SQU for a 20% discount at the Createspace Estore through Wednesday March 31.   You will need to use the link in the above article to get the discount.  The code does not work at Amazon. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Political Angst

I have a couple of pet peeves that have been aggravated this week. Pet peeve number 1 is email forwards that are factually incorrect. Someone has an agenda, usually political, and they forward something inflammatory without any regard for the truth. I only ever receive these from Christians. Maybe unbelievers do it too. But it bothers me deeply when Christians sin against such a clear Scriptural command (after all, not bearing false witness is one of the 10 Commandments) in their own moral outrage over something that often Scripture doesn’t address at all.

I guess this first pet peeve is just a sub point of my next one, which is dogmatism over something that the Scripture is not dogmatic. Dogma is doctrine laid down by an authority. Dogma is a very good thing when the authority laying it down is the Scripture. To be dogmatic means to assert strong opinions on dogma in an arrogant manner. Dogma is one thing. Dogmatism is another. And dogmatism is especially dishonoring to God when the dogma we are arrogantly defending is not laid down in Scripture at all. We do this ALL THE TIME in conservative Christianity.

I’m currently contemplating political dogmatism dressed in Christian terminology. The moral outrage Christians generate over political issues, at least in my culture, is loud and angry. Every third rainy Tuesday or so, the angst is tied to something Scripture actually dogmatically teaches. But the vast majority of the time, at least in my experience, the angst is over something the individual perceives as righteous or unrighteous but that Scripture itself only addresses in either very general terms or doesn’t address at all.

My convictions about the relationship of my Christian beliefs to my political beliefs are fairly simple. My clear, God given obligation is to pray for my leaders (I Timothy 2:1-2) and obey the laws of my land (Romans 13:1). That is Scriptural dogma. Beyond that, I have a realistic understanding of the role that government plays in my life. I certainly have no expectation that government will save me. I also don’t believe that it will destroy me, if I define that Biblically. God’s kingdom functions equally well in religious freedom and religious oppression (arguably actually better in oppression). I am daily thankful for my religious freedom, but it won’t save me. The power people give the government to ruin their day is amazing to me. It has become a god – usually a mean god that ruins their day, but a god nonetheless.

Of course, it’s easy for me to talk today. Government is not knocking on my door requiring anything oppressive from me. I have had a few times (mostly driving tickets that I thought were unreasonable and 1 presidential election that stressed me out in particular) where government made me mad and I felt angst and anger out of proportion to the power they truly have over me in terms of God’s kingdom. These times raised my awareness of the power I gave it to ruin my day. I encourage all of us to examine our reactions to political issues – our angst, our anger, our worry – and hold those reactions up to eternal Biblical truth. Does your reaction reflect confidence in God’s eternal kingdom purposes? Do you trust God when He says He sets up your leaders (Romans 13:1)? Do you believe that God is sovereign over even oppressive governments? Do you allow yourself to violate clear Scriptural commands (such as against malice or lying) in defense of your political views? Do you love those who have different political views? Using the I Corinthians 13 definition of love, do you speak rudely to those with a different view or do you give them the benefit of the doubt? Are you kind and patient in your disagreements? Or do you write them off losing hope for anything good?

This blog is read among many countries. For many of you, this may be a non-issue. But if you are experiencing angst, anger, and worry over your government’s decisions, I hope you will take time to examine them against what Scripture clearly states in dogmatic terms. And make sure your dogmatism matches Scripture.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nobody Notices My Faith

I grew up in vibrant youth groups that emphasized the "Be a Good Testimony" argument that is the foundation of much of what is taught to young Christians concerning day to day choices they make. Going to that movie, listening to that music, or dating that boy would not "be a good testimony." I've matured much since then and no longer define "good testimony" in terms of movies or music but more in terms of Biblical love and grace.

John 13:35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

But I STILL want to be a good testimony. I want my life to reflect well on God's name. I want Him to receive glory from what I say and do. But sometimes, no matter how hard I try, nobody notices. "Hey, I'm being faithful! I'm trying to be gracious over here. I just sacrificed out of trust for God. Give God some glory please so I feel the effort was worth it." Sometimes I sit morosely thinking that I really tried to obey God and make choices that fit with His instructions. But I see no earthly benefit to it. It's one thing to die to your desire for your own glory. That's hard to do. But I thought I was supposed to want to see God glorified. How do I handle it when nothing I seem to do matters?

I'm studying Hebrews 11, the Faith Chapter, today in preparation for a Bible study tonight. I was struck by how little in earthly results the saints mentioned saw in their own lifetime. The first one mentioned was Abel, whose act of faith cost him his life, and as far as we know, the only one who witnessed his faith on earth was the one who murdered him.

This reminds me of Job. He testified on earth to God's glory, but his faith seemed totally lost on those around him. Certainly, his wife and friends didn't appreciate it. But the testimony in question was bigger than the one on earth that constrains most of us. Job's story is about testifying in the heavenly places to Satan and the angels, not simply to his wife and friends.

Many times I get it all wrong. I am selfish and sacrifice others to my own agenda. But sometimes I believe I did obey God and sought to endure in love even when it cost me, and those occasions still have meaning and benefit even if I don't see God glorified through it on earth. No matter what the results on earth, enduring faith always brings God glory in the heavenly places. No one sitting at the table during the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will ever regret enduring with faith on earth.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Playing Candyland

I have a lot of worthwhile goals I am trying to accomplish. The readership for this blog is growing. I have three book projects in the works, one bearing down on me this month. Each of these projects cause me to study the Word and wrestle with God over what He is saying, particularly to His daughters. I WANT to do these things. They bring me joy. They make me think.

Then up walks my 3 year old asking me to play Candyland with him. I love my 3 year old, but I hate Candyland. It doesn’t make me think, and it does not bring me joy. Neither does finding his harmonica or putting together the United States puzzle. Tuesday as I studied Hebrews in preparation for a women’s Bible study that night at a friend’s house, it slowly dawned on me how often I put him off when he asks something of me. I’m a “stay at home” mom. I’m with him the vast majority of the day. But though I’m with him physically, I’m often far away mentally. I am very skilled at occupying him so that I can get my worthwhile projects (the ones that are fulfilling to me) done.

You don’t need to lecture me. I already know the truth. THEY are my worthwhile project. But raising them is such a slow, steady process that I lose sight of the value. I like short-term projects that I can see a worthwhile result after minimal time. I find joy when I can hold the end project in my hands and admire it after the fact. But long-term endurance and perseverance for decades is much harder. And sometimes I am just afraid—I know I can’t control the outcome of this project and fear that the more I invest the bigger my let down when they reject me or the gospel. I’ve experienced enough disappointment in life to know that they may very well one day profoundly disappoint me. So I like projects I can control. That won’t disappoint me.

While studying Hebrews at our Bible study Tuesday night, we were all reminded of the hope that will not disappoint.

Romans 9:33 just as it is written,"BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED."

Romans 10:11 For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED."

In light of that hope which will NOT disappoint me, I can live with my concerns about lesser hopes that may disappoint. No matter how well I attempt to train them, my boys may or may not get in trouble at school, they may or may not make wise choices with girls, they may or may not want to go on mission trips or serve God in ministry. But I know that when I sit at the marriage feast with Jesus and it is all said and done, I will not be disappointed. I don’t really know anything other than that. But I do know that. I will NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.

So I put down the lesser projects that I can control and reengaged with the greater project that I can’t control. Yesterday I played Candyland, set up train tracks, put together a puzzle, watched bike riding in the garage, and explained the story behind the pictures in the children’s Bible. It is all an act of faith with God. I can’t control any of it, and that’s okay. Because whatever happens now, I know I will not be disappointed when I finally see Jesus face to face and take my place beside Him for eternity. All my hopes will be satisfied. All will be well.

Monday, March 08, 2010

"Each time things changed we just took a deep breath and carried on."

I am a closet wanna-be marine biologist and am currently reading Operation Orca, a book on the attempts to relocate two young whales that became separated from their pods in the pacific northwest. The title of this post is a comment made by one of the many volunteers giving of themselves to make that happen. In particular, a company had donated a bunch of equipment to make a pen and provide salmon for one of the orcas to be relocated. When they placed a banner on their boat, temporarily donated to the cause, that advertised their business, they were asked to take it down due to a conflict between farm raised and fresh salmon (don’t ask—I don’t understand this conflict). The manager of the project for the company acquiesced, recounting later, “Each time things changed we just took a deep breath and carried on.” Why was he able to say that? Really, they more than deserved a little free advertising based on all they were providing for the project. But they had a bigger purpose to all of it than advertising. They were genuinely committed to returning this little whale to her family and willing to endure unfair requests to make it happen.

It reminds me of something I read Matt Chandler (pastor of a large church in Texas who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer) say in an interview on MSNBC. He said that learning he had cancer was “kind of like getting punched in the gut. You take the shot, you try not to vomit, then you get back to doing what you do, believing what you believe.” What makes someone take a deep breath and carry on when they are maligned, unfairly stifled, seriously undercut in their attempts at ministry, or just plain socked in the gut with unexpected suffering? I submit the only thing that will really meet you in that place and encourage you to get back up and carry on is a deep commitment to and confidence in something bigger.

In Ephesians, Paul talks in great depth of our spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. He mentions “in the heavenly places” three times in Ephesians. There is much going on in and for God’s kingdom outside our line of sight, and we need confidence in what God says He is doing for us and through us to give perspective to the sacrifices and redirections we experience daily in our walk with Him.

As Paul writes Ephesians, he is under house arrest. Shortly, he will be put to death. He had experienced a long winding path of redirections. He had great experience taking a deep breath and carrying on. And he did it (and encouraged others to do it) because he had great confidence in something much bigger than his arrests, shipwrecks, and thorns in the flesh. At the end of Ephesians 3, he tells his friends in Ephesus,

13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

Then, as he sits in jail awaiting his death, he writes the prayer I hear repeated most often to send off believers in confidence into the world after Sunday worship.

16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Sister in Christ, if you have been socked in the gut with something that has taken your breath away and makes you want to vomit, know that God is doing something bigger in you and through you than anything you see here now. There is something going on in the heavenly places, and it is the only thing that can give perspective to what you are enduring now. May you have confidence today in the breadth, depth, and height of God's great love for you. Know He is doing more than you could ask or think. And believe that His eternal purposes to bring Himself glory through His church makes “taking a breath and carrying on” a worthy response in your trial.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I am intrigued by the Scripture's controversial words to women. I believe we can take Scripture at face value, and I guard myself against writing off any Scripture, no matter how hard its instructions sound. I know if I allow myself to write off the things I find hard, I open the door to writing off the things that I find precious and life giving as well. But I know the society I live in, especially Christian society. Left to themselves without proper checks and balances, authorities always tend to over reach and abuse. It's their fallen nature. So what do I do with the Bible's straightforward instructions to wives?

Ephesians 5:33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Ephesians 5:33 in particular has some of the most inflaming instructions to women in all of Scripture. Paul has just used the same Greek word for respect, phobeo, in verse 21, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The Greek word means to fear, reverence, venerate, or treat with deference or reverential obedience. Just in case you didn’t find the term respect itself controversial enough, consider how the Amplified Bible words this verse.

33… let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly].

If you are a woman with any sense of pride, your body probably tenses with dread in the pit of your stomach as you read these words, perhaps in part because you know that you make better decisions than your husband. What if you do? What if you can document that your decision-making skills are more mature and biblical than his? Does that make it unreasonable to expect you to respect your husband? Which comes first—respect or respectability? I remember well an illustration given by an education professor during my undergraduate studies. He told of a junior high math teacher who, on the first day of class, mistook her students’ locker numbers for their IQ’s. For the entire school year, she treated the students as if they were only as smart as their locker numbers indicated. Sure enough, at the end of the year, they had consistently lived either up or down to her expectations.

This illustration reflects well the issue at hand. If we wait until our husbands meet some subjective standard we have set for earning our respect, we will never respect them. I would be quite offended if my husband chose to not love me until I met some external criteria for being lovable. The same should be true of my respect toward him.

Surprisingly enough, I did not personally have that much of a problem with the concept of submitting to my husband. But respect was much harder. I could submit and still harbor anger and bitterness. I could still put out the vibe that says, “I am disappointed in your decision-making skills.” In fact, submission without respect let me live in a delusion of self-righteousness. “I am submitting, but I do not think you know what you are doing, and I am going to continue to let you know that I do not trust you with my attitude, even though, technically, I am submitting on this issue.” Submission does not equal respect. And submission without respect brings NO honor to God. Why would God command the combination of the two?

If you have not yet read the first three chapters of For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn, I highly recommend that you do. She has well illustrated God’s wisdom in giving us the command to respect our husbands. God is the master psychologist who better understands the male/female psyche than we have any hope of comprehending, especially when it comes to the issue of respecting our husbands. The bottom line is that our husbands need our respect every bit as much as we need their love. Respect is my husband’s love language. But how can we respect someone if we have deemed them unworthy of our respect? This leads back to our earlier question. Which comes first—respect or respectability? We must remember that this is God’s command to wives, and God has already well earned our obedience. God has earned our respect. So we treat our husbands with deference, honoring the position in the home to which God has called them out of our respect for God.

Even if our spouse abdicates his responsibilities, when we honor him as God intended him to be, not as he is now, we are being salt and light in our homes, powerfully influencing our husbands, not by nagging and manipulating, but by humble submission to God’s design. If you want a husband you can one-day respect, I highly recommend you start treating him that way now. A godly wife’s respect for her husband despite his fallen nature and tendency toward sin is a powerful tool of God to minister grace to her husband and transform him to what God intended him to be.

Sure, you may have a more logical, systematic argument for which car you should purchase. And certainly you should make that argument. But understand too when your argument stops being for your idea and against, maybe even mocking, his. Most importantly, recognize that your husband's conformity to God's image is more important than that car, and God's purposes in your marriage extend WAY past the earthly circumstances that will consume us if we let them. The car is irrelevant. Your husband's heart and conformity to Christ are not. And your respect is apparently in God's sight a valuable piece of the puzzle in terms of conformity back to the image of God for both you and your husband.

When read in context of all of Ephesians 5, we see that our calling is not unfair. Simply put—like our husbands, we are called to be like Christ—to submit our will, humble ourselves, and take on the form of a servant in our homes. Christ is both our model and our source of strength to obey on this matter. Do you trust God’s plan on this matter? Do you trust His Word? Do you trust His wisdom, sovereignty, and compassion? Are you offended that God calls you to be a servant like Christ? That He asks you to humble yourself by treating your husband with respect? If you are struggling with respect and submission, start by dealing not with your views of your husband, but with your views of God Himself. You can trust God with the details of your daily life. Rest in Him for He is worthy.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Put Off, Renew, Put On

This is an exerpt from By His Wounds You are Healed: How the Message of Ephesians Transforms a Woman's Identity, coming in March.


17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

To be honest, this has not been my favorite section of Scripture over the year. I heard many sermons on this section of Ephesians growing up and into my years at Bible college. Most left me feeling like the weight of responsibility for putting away my sins lay on my shoulders alone. It was a good day when I studied these verses in light of the connected, coherent teaching of the whole of Ephesians. Without recognizing the fullness of all we have in Christ and the power at work on our behalf through him according to Ephesians 1 and 2, trying to put off our old self and put on the new self is completely impossible. This passage taken out of context sets up believers for failure.

Paul is talking here specifically about our sanctification—that process by which God changes us from wretched orphans abandoned on the street to the beautiful bride of Christ adorned in righteousness. The Bible is the best commentary on itself, and Ephesians is not the only place it talks about our sanctification. It is helpful to look at other Scripture to give us clarity on how God sanctifies us. Consider 2 Corinthians 3:18.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

The passive voice here indicates that we are not doing the transforming. Instead, we are being transformed by the Spirit. This is one of the primary functions of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. The Bible refers to it in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and 1 Peter 1:2 as the “sanctifying work of the Spirit.”

The term passive may raise concerns in some of you reading this. You may think this sounds like we just lay back motionless on the floor while the Spirit does all the work. The Scripture gives us better examples. Consider Moses’ actions when Amalek fought Israel in Exodus 20.

9 So Moses said to Joshua, "Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand." 10So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.

God fought the battle, but Moses participated. Moses’ job was to reach out to God, but God was solely responsible for defeating the enemy. While that is a helpful Biblical analogy of our participation with God in the work he does for us, the Bible refers specifically to this joint participation in Leviticus 20 and Philippians 2.

Leviticus 20:7-8 Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

In Leviticus 20, we are commanded to be holy (sanctified or set apart for God’s purposes) because God is making us holy. In Philippians 2, we’re told to work out what God is working in. God is working in and with me, so that I show outwardly what He is changing me to be. Any righteousness we exhibit outwardly is a result of our inner relationship with Christ. We cannot separate the two.

With this foundation in mind, let us go back to Paul’s words in this section of Ephesians 4.

22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

While we are passively being transformed (2 Cor. 3:18), we are also proactively putting off our old self and putting on our new self. And that new self is entirely wrapped up in the image of God that he created us to be, characterized by the true, authentic, Biblical righteousness and holiness we have learned in Christ. Interestingly, Paul talks about this same concept in Colossians but uses wording that indicates that the putting off of the old nature and putting on of the new is already completed.

9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

This is becoming what you are. God has broken the chains that enslaved you to sin and given you a new nature. He has put off the old and put on the new at our birth in Christ. And now we are becoming in reality what God has already declared us to be in heaven—fully righteous according to Christ’s example. You may be frustrated by the dueling tenses of verbs in these instructions—the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The Bible definitely asserts both, but the tension fades if we remember Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 1. We have an unchanging spiritual reality in the heavenly places guaranteed for us by the deposit of the Holy Spirit. We are becoming on earth what God has already affirmed us to be in heaven. What we have now in Ephesians 4 is God’s design for closing the gap between the two, what Francis Schaeffer used to call “possessing our possessions.”

The renewing in Ephesians 4:23 once again reflects a passive voice. We are not doing the renewing. Instead, we are allowing ourselves to be renewed by someone else. This is consistent with all Paul has taught us up to this point. God is doing something new for us and to us through Christ. He is renewing our minds. And we are working in conjunction with him—for apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). It’s crucial to understand that our transformation in Christlikeness, putting off the old man and putting on the new, is a joint venture with God in which God does the heavy work. When we struggle with sin, we can cast ourselves fully upon Christ and expect him to meet us in our struggle and equip us to obey. Apart from such dependence on Christ, we are doomed to failure.

I have areas in my life that I hate—places that I repeatedly sin and yearn for long lasting change. One issue that I have struggled with a good bit is my weight. On one hand, I struggle with the sin of gluttony. My god is my belly, and I obey it anytime it speaks. On the other hand, I struggle with vanity. I want to be beautiful in the emptiest sense of the term. My old man seems alive and well. How do I battle it and put on a new way of living that reflects all I am in Christ?

For me, the answer is, simply put, the gospel. I have tried a long list of diet and exercise methods. There is always something new to try--some diet that worked like a miracle for someone I know, and, because it worked for them, it should also work for me. When someone tells me what worked for them, I usually feel pressure to do the same. Then, instead of feeling motivated, I feel condemned because it never works for me.

But God has called me to himself and is renewing my mind. He has given me an inheritance in Christ that transcends my ability to fully understand. He loves me with a love that surpasses knowledge. And he wants my god to be himself, not my belly. He wants me to live for eternity, not vain beauty. So I wrestle with him—“God, enlighten me to the hope of my calling. Show me how my inheritance in Christ equips me to deal with my sin. Renew my mind so that I may put off both gluttony and vanity and put on new ways of dealing with food, exercise, and body image that are like Christ.”

After years of gluttony and vanity, God renewed my mind on the issue of my weight. He changed my heart so that the lifestyle changes I made were not chores, but pleasures. I can only attribute this to His grace and mercy--to the gospel itself. Without God renewing my mind and enlightening me to my inheritance in Him, my attempts at putting off and putting on were powerless.

This is just one small example in my life of how God is transforming me. Where in your life is God moving you to put off the old and put on new ways of dealing with issues that reflect Christ’s example? How does your inheritance in him equip you to change? How is he renewing your mind, changing the way you think about things so that you think more like him?