God’s Promise and God’s Way
Ephesians Series #069
June 7, 2020
Dr. Robert L. Dean, Jr.
“Our Father, again we’re so grateful that we have Your Word, for Your Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Your Word informs us of truth. It is in Your light we see light. It is Your Word that tells us how we should think and how we should act. It teaches us the key principles for living in relationship to You: for enjoying, deepening and strengthening that relationship to You.
“But it also tells us the unique privileges that You have given us as members of the body of Christ, the blessings that You have provided for us. That is the theme of this epistle that we are studying, and as we continue to go through it, we pray that You would open our eyes to the tremendous privileges that You’ve given us, the unique benefits and the unique provisions that You have provided for us in the body of Christ.
“That we are called to a higher standard, that we are adopted members of Your royal family, and that it is through Your grace that we have salvation. It is through the indwelling and the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit that we are able to grow through His illumination, that we are able to understand the truth of Your Word.
“May we not take this lightly, but may we hold these truths dearly, because there are those around us that would seek to destroy them and take them away from us. Father, we pray that You would challenge us today as we study Your Word. In Christ’s name, amen.”
Open your Bibles to Ephesians 2; we’re going to be studying about God’s promise and God’s way in Ephesians 2:13, as we begin to look at this particular topic again. This is a critical foundational passage.
Ephesians 2:11–13 sets the stage for what will be covered in Ephesians 2:14–18. A preview of coming attractions: we will be introduced to a new reality in the next section that will, and should, transform even more of your understanding of the uniqueness and significance of being in Christ and of what God is doing in this thing called the church.
The point in this section of Ephesians is to emphasize for the readers and for us now what we have in Christ. This was a new reality in the first century. Prior to this the only people of God were the Jews. God had entered into a covenant with Abraham, He called out a distinct people. But now starting on the Day of Pentecost in AD 33, 50 days after Christ’s crucifixion on the day of Passover, the church came into existence.
The church continues and is composed of all believers who have lived and have gone to be in the presence of the Lord, as well as those who are alive to today, and all who believe in Christ in the future will become part of this body until the rapture of the church, which takes place prior to the Tribulation.
Prior to the church that one people of God were those who were the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then there was true Israel, which were those who trusted in the messianic hope—in the promise of the Messiah, in the promise of Christ—and looked forward to and anticipated that coming, redemption, and their future reconciliation with God.
God chose the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be His special people. He did not choose them for salvation. He chose them to be part of His plan in history—that through them God would reveal Himself more fully to the human race. God would provide through them the Scriptures, the coming Messiah, the Savior of the world, and through Him all the nations of the world would be blessed.
This marked them off, not because God saw something really great in them. He didn’t mark them off because they were somehow better or more spiritual than anybody else. In fact, just the opposite. In Deuteronomy God reminds them, “I didn’t select you because I saw anything good in you because you’re a rebellious and stiff-necked people.” God saw how bad they were, how disobedient they were, and He continuously called them on it.
But he chose them for a special purpose—to demonstrate His grace, and that is true for every single human being, that none of us has a relationship with God apart from His grace. None of us deserves to have a relationship with God because we are all born sinners, we are corrupted by sin, and we are born in rebellion against God.
Yet God in His grace: Scripture says that, even while we were at enmity with God, God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
God is bringing out a new people, so there is a contrast that takes place. This is the focus in the passage we are studying, Ephesians 2:11–13:
“Therefore—that is, in light of what Paul has said in Ephesians 2:1–10—remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—that was their ethnicity, and a Gentile was anyone other than a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—once Gentiles in the flesh who are called Uncircumcision by what is called a Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers of the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
This is our focal point coming out of Ephesians 2:11–12—the contrast between what they had been—and this is marked by this haughty arrogance of the Pharisees. Judaism developed a self-righteous arrogance towards the time of Christ’s coming. Coming out of the Babylonian captivity in approximately 516 BC and going through that intertestamental period they became more and more religiously legalistic until the arrogance of religious legalism began to seriously divide the nation.
It created all kinds of problems, and we will see the consequences of that, because self-righteous arrogance always leads to division and destruction. It is never the basis on which you can provide a healthy, tranquil, productive culture.
God had called out Abraham in Genesis 12. He summarizes here what He will do through Abraham, Genesis 12:2, “I will make you a great nation—notice God makes them a great nation on God’s terms, not on their terms. They do not make themselves a great nation—I will bless you—that’s the promise of blessing—and make your name great—that is, your reputation will go throughout the world—and you shall be a blessing …”
That was a command; it’s not stated here as an indicative that this is what would happen. He is commanding Abraham to be a blessing.
Genesis 12:3, “I will—that is, God will—bless those who bless you—those who bless the Jewish people, whether they’re saved or not, whether they’re Christian or not, whatever their religion might be, whatever their circumstances might be, if they are good to the Jewish people then God says He will bless them.
That is true for all time, for all people—and I will curse him—this is also true at all times for all people. It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity, what your national identity, what your religious orientation is, God says, ‘I will curse those who curse you,’ and then He promised Abraham—and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
We see two of the primary aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant emphasized here:
- The seed promise in terms of his descendants and blessing.
- Then just a few verses later, after Abraham has gone down to Egypt and come back, God makes the land promise.
Genesis 12:7, “Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ And there he—Abram—built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.”
This promise of the land is reiterated in Genesis 13:15 and Genesis 15:18.
When God makes this promise “to your descendants,” that is literally in the Hebrew the word “seed”—(to your seed) to your descendants I will give this land.”
We have seen that in the Abrahamic Covenant, there are three aspects:
- The land promise that God will give this specific real estate which He defines in Genesis 15 and in Genesis 17.
- The Davidic Covenant comes later. This gives more detail on the promise of his descendants, culminating eventually in the Messiah.
- Worldwide blessing, eventually fulfilled, for Israel in the New Covenant described in Jeremiah 31:31–33.
The word “seed” is important and germane to the background for what we are studying in Ephesians 2:11–13.
The first time this word appears with spiritual significance is in Genesis 3:15:
“I will put hostility—God speaking—I will put hostility between you—He’s addressing the serpent who had tempted the woman to sin against God. She in turn enticed her husband. God’s judgment on the serpent is—I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.”
The Hebrew word used here for “seed” is zara. It can refer to a literal, physical seed in any kind of a plant. It’s the means of reproduction in a plant. You’re familiar with seeds; if you’ve eaten an apple, an orange, some other kind of fruit, or an avocado, then you have observed that there is a seed inside that is the means of reproduction.
“Seed” also came to be used for those who are the results—or produced through the reproduction—that is, the descendants. It is used that way here: the descendant of the serpent; that is, those who are opposed to God, hostile to God, those who are enemies of God, would be destroyed by the seed (singular) of the woman.
Interestingly this word is a collective noun: a noun that is used in the singular, but at times it can refer to one; at other times it can refer to many. So, we need to look at this. For example, in English the word “deer.” You can talk about one deer, or you can talk about many deer, so the one word “deer” without the “s” on it, can refer to either one or many.
The same thing is true for the word “seed.” It can refer to one seed or can refer to many—one descendant or to many descendants. The reason I make that point is because the Word of God tells us that every word is important. In fact, Jesus made the statement about the Word of God, that not one jot or tittle would go away until all have been fulfilled; not one jot or tittle would be broken.
A jot is the smallest letter in the Hebrew, a yod. It looks like an apostrophe to us, but it stands for the letter Y. He is saying every letter is important, and when you look at the word “seed,” and the word “seeds,” the difference between the singular and plural is one letter.
Jesus is saying that it’s important to analyze all of these words because their very form, singular or plural, whether it has different endings, whether it’s in the nominative, genitive or accusative case, all these different things, may depend on just one letter. That’s important to understand truth.
Inspiration extends not just to the words, but to the very form of the words. He says “every tittle’ because a tittle is a part of a letter. For example, the leg of the capital “R,” if it’s removed then it looks like the letter “P” That can change a word from “run” to “pun” to bun, and these indicate different things. With the tittle, if that small stroke is left off, it changes the word, and thus, changes the meaning of the sentence.
There’s a significance here in the word “seed” singular, the “seed” of the woman, not the seeds. We will show why that’s important because of what Paul says in Galatians 3:16, from the passage that we read this morning after the first hymn.
Galatians 3:16, “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made.” This is the Greek word SPERMA, for seed. It is, in this first instance, in the singular. So, to Abraham’s seed, indicating one, were the promises made.
Paul made a point out of this; it’s important that it is one seed, singular, and not many seeds. He does not say, “and to seeds”—plural—as of many, but as of one, “ ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.”
Interestingly if you go back and look at the Old Testament passages as they are typically translated, it will be hard for you to find in the English a place where it is translated as a singular seed or singular descendant.
The passage that this derives from is found in the reappearance—the last confirmation—of the Abrahamic Covenant by God to Abraham in Genesis 22:16 and following, the significant verse being, Genesis 22:17. It’s a repetition, reconfirmation, of the Abrahamic Covenant.
“… blessing I will bless you—the better translation would be, I will certainly bless you—and I will certainly multiply your descendants …” The Hebrew is zara for “seed” in the singular. But is this talking about one seed or many? That’s a good question. This is a test to see if you can read and comprehend the context. “I will multiply your seed—or seeds—as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore.”
When he compares it to stars and the grains of sand on the seashore, those are plural concepts. So there the word should be translated as a plural, “I will multiply your descendants.”
Multiplication indicates that there is a multiplicity, a number of these descendants. So, there it should be translated as a plural into English. It was translated as a plural into the Greek Septuagint. The rabbis clearly understood that use of zara had to be translated is a plural.
“… and your descendants—the same word, zara is translated the second time as plural, descendants—shall possess the gate of their enemies.”
Some people look at that and say, “Well, he’s already used zara in the collective; a lot of translators do that, so it must be the collective plural here.” But there’s a problem: in the Hebrew the “T-H-E-I-R” is not T-H-E-R-E.
In Hebrew, to form different words, if you add a pronoun to a noun, it’s a suffix. And the suffix to this noun in the Hebrew is a third person singular, which means “his.” Not there!
In English we will sometimes use “their” to refer to a singular noun, but that should not be done here. In the Hebrew it is very clear that it should be translated “will not possess the gate of his enemies.” The original would indicate that because of the third person singular “his” attached to zara that the second use of zara, or descendant, should be translated as a singular.
Genesis 22:17 should read, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your descendants—plural—as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendant—singular—shall possess the gate of their enemies.”
That is a messianic promise. It is a messianic prophecy that the coming Messiah, the Seed of the woman, would go through the seed of Abram and would defeat His enemies, just as the seed of the woman would defeat the seed of the serpent in Genesis 3:15.
All of this is important for understanding the background to Ephesians 2:11–13.
By New Testament times the Pharisees had twisted this teaching about God’s choice of Abraham and his descendants to be a point of pride. The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant was circumcision. By the late period between the Testaments—the second or first century BC—the basic teaching among the Pharisees and other religious leaders was that the blood that was shed in circumcision was necessary for salvation and redemption; it is redemptive and salvific.
I’m bringing this in because as we start Ephesians 2:13, we notice what Paul says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
The rabbis understood that there had to be a sacrifice, there had to be the shedding of blood for there to be forgiveness of sin, but they’re saying that’s the blood that was shed through circumcision.
They became extremely arrogant about this. They were the ones with the sign of the covenant, they were the ones were given a covenant by God, and they began to look down in a very haughty way toward anybody else. It was pure racism, and they elevated themselves above the Gentiles. They used the aspect of circumcision to be the focal point, and what did it do? It led to greater division.
You see arrogance can’t solve anything. Arrogance always creates more problems. Arrogance and self-righteousness on the part of the Pharisees led to tremendous division, not just between Jews and Gentiles, but among the Jews themselves. The arrogant legalism of the Pharisees was filled with this racial prejudice, and racial prejudice is always wrong.
Every human being is created in the image and likeness of God. Genesis 9:6 says that if anyone murders someone, if anyone sheds man’s blood, by man his blood should also be shed. He should be given capital punishment. Why? Because he’s created in the image and likeness of God.
If killing a human being is an attack on the image of God and that is seen as an attack on God Himself, then in racial prejudice when we are denigrating and insulting and being hateful toward somebody because of their ethnicity, we are also committing a blasphemous act against God, because we are being prejudiced against somebody on just the basis of their ethnicity, and that is an attack on the fact that they are in the image of God; and therefore, it is an attack on God Himself.
We need to understand what happened in the ancient world in Israel because of the Pharisees’ legalistic arrogance. That legalistic arrogance eventually led them to a divided Jewish culture. Then at the end of their revolt against Rome in AD 66, when Jerusalem was under siege by the Romans, there were so many divisions among the Jews inside of Jerusalem that they were fighting each other, they were killing each other, and they were destroying themselves.
If the Romans had waited, the Jews would’ve all destroyed themselves, and the Romans wouldn’t have had to burn down Jerusalem.
Self-righteous arrogance always leads to division and self-destruction. It is never the solution; it is never the means to a solution. It will always be self-destructive. Arrogance never solves problems.
The Scripture is very clear about how God made ethnic distinctions.
Acts 17:26, Paul is in Athens, “God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.”
We are all members of the human race. We are not members of different races that had different beginnings. That goes back to Social Darwinism, which had the idea that there were multiple developments of human beings and that some were better than others, which led to the racial theories of the Nazis.
They saw the Jews as being on the lowest rung. But Scripture teaches that we are all equally in the image of God, and we are all made from Adam and Eve. We’re all equally descendants; therefore, equally members of the human race.
This last week we have witnessed the horrible, inexcusable, unjustified, brutal, and fatal arrest of George Floyd. Nothing should or can justify or mitigate what happened to him, but we’ve also witnessed the reaction to his death. Some have been peaceful demonstrations and others were violent actions against police, citizens and also led to the destruction of private property.
The question for us as believers in Jesus Christ is this: How should we as believers in Christ respond to what happened to George Floyd? That’s an important question because we are basically left as we always are as believers with two options: either God’s way or man’s way.
Scripture says in Proverbs 14:12 and Proverbs 16:25, that the way of man seems right to him, but the end thereof is death. There are ways that seem like this is the way to do it, this is going to solve the problem; this is what I have to do. But the Bible says that’s the path to self-destruction, and a lot of it is because it is arrogance.
Anything man does apart from God is always motivated by arrogance. I don’t care how self-righteous and moral it appears to be, it’s always motivated by arrogance. The way of God is not based on arrogance. It’s based on humility. It’s based on biblical love. For the Church Age believer it is love one another as Christ loved us. That’s our standard.
We have two options:
- We can do it the way the culture says to do it, the way our neighbors think it ought to be done, the way people say it ought to be done, the way of man that leads to destruction or death.
- Or we have to take a hard look at the Scriptures and determine what the Scripture says.
As there have been demonstrations and protests across the nation, many have led to further violence and death, as well as terrible acts of property destruction. But there have been bright things as well. There have been a number of wonderful situations where property and/or police were protected by the nonviolent demonstrators against the lawless agitators and anarchists who have come from outside in order to cause chaos and destruction.
I read a wonderful episode that happened. I’m not sure when, but I read about it last night; either yesterday or the day before. It’s the story of a police officer who was called to a place during a demonstration, and he ends up being the only police officer there, and he’s going to the crowd of the protesters and the demonstrators, and he’s beginning to get very, very nervous and very fearful; he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. A lot of horrible things are being yelled at him and a lot of insults and things of that nature.
Suddenly one black man broke out of the crowd and comes over and stands between him and the nearest agitators, and then another man came up and locked arms with that first black man, and before long there were five who stood around him to protect him as he moved his way to where there were some other police officers coming in order to pull him out of that situation.
They stood together and the testimonies of these men was that we knew we couldn’t let anything happen to him. That would destroy everything else that we were doing. So there have been very bad things that have happened and there have been some wonderful things like that.
These demonstrations and protests, remember, as long as they are nonviolent, are perfectly legal under the Constitution. Their rights are protected by our Constitution. But let’s stop and think a minute.
Just because there are these examples of kindness, examples of love, examples of people coming together in these demonstrations in prayer, and just because it’s legal, does that mean that that’s the way believers in Christ should operate? Should they be involved in these demonstrations and these protests? Or are we as believers in Christ and in the Scripture called to a higher standard?
I’m not going to get into all the details. They don’t really matter as far as we’re thinking about this, as to what happened, the background of George Floyd’s arrest and all of these other things. I have learned over the years not to speak too soon because there are going to be further investigations and often there are other things that come out.
We just don’t know. And I’m not saying that there’s anything that is going to justify what happened to him. I don’t think there is. But we need to wait; we need to be patient. We don’t need to jump out there right away because that is just often irresponsibility.
We have to recognize, first of all, that the death of George Floyd was absolutely horrible. It was illegal. The officers who are responsible were fired from their jobs, and they were arrested and charged with the criminal actions that they engaged in. That is the legal and correct path. That’s why we believe in law. We are a law-abiding nation. We are nation who believes in the rule of law, and we have to let the rule of law work itself out. This is exactly as it should be.
But we must also recognize as believers that there are certain mandates to believers to respect authority in a city, in a town, in a state, in the nation. We are to respect and honor that authority, even if the person in that position is not worthy of respect or honor.
The only justification Scripture ever gives for showing disrespect, dishonor and disobedience to someone in authority is when they are mandating us to do something that Scripture specifically says we ought not to do.
Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 2. They were told that they had to bow down to an idol. Scripture commanded them, “do not be worshipers of idols.” Nebuchadnezzar was mandating that they do something directly in violation of God, so they stood the ground calmly, quietly, peaceably.
Sadly when we look at what has been taking place in this country the last few days in demonstrations and protests, maintaining that peaceable attitude, that calm mental attitude that is resting on Christ is extremely difficult to maintain. It is rarely an environment in these demonstrations that promotes respect for authority or the government, especially when those who have caused this and those who hold office are not worthy of respect.
Whether it’s the president, a congressman or whether it’s a police officer who has abused their office, it is difficult for us to show respect for the office when the individual in the office is not worthy of respect.
Since I was in high school witnessing the demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, I have given a lot of thought to what the Scriptures say about respect for authority. It is my conclusion that Christians have absolutely no business being involved in these activities because they violate what is stated in Romans 13:1–3, 1 Peter 2:13–17 and 2 Peter 2:10–13. This nation is founded as a nation of laws, and we are to respect those laws and respect those who are in the office.
Listen to what this says. This is not easy; it’s not easy at all. At one time or another, we all run afoul of this, but this is the higher standard that Christians are called to:
Romans 13:2, “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.”
God will judge them. There will be consequences for self-righteous disrespect to authority, and it works itself out in history, as I’ll show in a minute.
Romans 13:3, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.”
1 Peter 2:13 is a little harder, because we understand that when Peter wrote this, Nero was in his psychotic state at the end of his reign, and was burning Christians like torches in the streets of Rome to illuminate the streets at night, and this is what Peter says. Peter was going to eventually die during that same time.
1 Peter 2:13, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man …”
Of course, he disobeyed the ordinance of man that back in Acts 3 where the Sadducees told him not to preach the gospel. See, that’s the exception, is when the ordinance of man tells you to do something or not to do something that the Word of God tells you either not to do or to do. You have to obey the Word of God over man. That was what Peter and John said.
1 Peter 2:13–14, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man—with that exception—for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.” That would be law enforcement officers appointed by the governor—those in the local municipalities.
1 Peter 2:15, “For this is the will of God—how many times do we hear Christians say, ‘I just wish I knew what the will of God was for my life?’ We have some various clear statements in Scripture that things are the will of God which are more often ignored than not—For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
This is critical. We must understand key principles. The first is that the Bible represents that we have one of two options: we either do it the world’s way or we do it God’s way.
Romans 12:2 says that we are not to be conformed to the world, but we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. That is a foundational verse for understanding spiritual growth. We don’t do it man’s way, we do it God’s way.
My position as a pastor for 40 years has been that demonstrations, peaceful or not, when they are motivated by anger, hate, bitterness, or vindictiveness, are not consistent with the biblical commands to respect authority. These sins are toxic mental attitude sins which poison the fruit, and down the line they will reap self-destructive consequences.
I’ve heard commentators on ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN who are sympathetic to the demonstrators and the protests, and they themselves remarked how these people are filled with anger and hatred and bitterness and fear. These are mental attitude sins that are prohibited to believers.
They’re sinful emotions, and we must recognize that nothing that is motivated by the root of sinful emotion can honor God or glorify God. Demonstrations motivated by the sinful emotions, peaceful or not, are not the right way to accomplish the end goal.
We have a system of laws, and those laws tell us that we are to work through our representatives. So the solutions for the believer, as frustrating as it may be with our unwieldy bureaucracy, is that we are to build relationships with our City Council representatives, with the mayor, or whatever form of government you have in your locality.
We’re to build relationships with our state legislators, with our representatives, with our state senators, with the governor’s office. We’re to build relationships with our national officers, with Congressman and Senators, our members of Congress in Washington, DC. You build relationships with them.
I learned this lesson watching AIPAC function. A couple of times—not related to AIPAC but a different organization—they would have pep rallies for Israel down by the Galleria, and it was really great. Nobody down there on the Jewish side, the pro-Israel side, was upset or angry or bitter. But oh boy! On the opposite side of the intersection, where all the pro-Palestinians were, they yelled some of the vilest insults and profanity.
I had a conversation with the local director of AIPAC. I said, “It was just is so interesting to contrast.” He made the comment, “You know, they just have great street theater.” That’s what we’ve been seeing with these demonstrations; it’s street theater. It will never accomplish anything. Many people have pointed that out. These things have never historically accomplished anything.
Elias said, “What we do in AIPAC is build relationships with our congressmen; we talk to them, and it goes on for year after year.” That changes things. It doesn’t matter about this street theater. That doesn’t affect what happens in the halls of Congress.
That was a great lesson to learn, that these people that are out there doing the street theater, they won’t accomplish much. It’s arrogance, and it will be self-destructive. We must understand this principle: a right thing done in a wrong way is wrong. Another way to put that is the end justifies the means.
Very few people or Christians understand that. You can’t do it your way without reaping negative consequences. We have to do it God’s way. A right thing, such as the abolition of slavery, had to be done in the right way.
We have a great example from history, comparing and contrasting what happened in America and what happened in Britain. Western civilization, like Asian civilization, like the civilization in deep Africa, like Arab and Muslim civilization had justified slavery since ancient times. Those who were captured in battle were turned into slaves, and were sold off. The slave trade operated in numerous cultures in numerous countries all around the world.
Two nations that were ultimately responsible for bringing that form of slavery to an end were the British and the Americans, but they did it in totally different ways. They had the same end, they had the same goal, but they did it in different ways, and that’s the history lesson.
In Britain it was under the influence of white male evangelical leaders, such as William Wilberforce, Granville Sharp, and many others, including John Newton who was the one who was the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
I’m emphasizing here that because they were evangelicals, they held to a view of man that was not idealistic. They understood that every human being is a sinner, man cannot be perfected, his sin can be controlled, but he cannot be perfected; and therefore, human civilization and human government cannot be perfected.
He worked diligently for about 25 years to abolish the slave trade. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire, first of all, with the Slave Trade Act of 1807 which ended the slave trade. Then they work even harder, and just before he died, the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was passed.
The consequences of his work and the work of others was that there was no great civil war, there was no great problem with racism and division and hostility, like we’ve had in America. These men operated on humility, they trusted God, they operated within the system and a lot of prayer, and they brought about change. They were evangelicals not governed by arrogance.
In contrast, in the United States the major abolitionist influences were called Christian, but they were not Orthodox Christians. There were Unitarians and Transcendentalists up in New England, and an evangelist who is often considered one of the greats, Charles Grandison Finney. Finney’s important because he founded Oberlin College, and Oberlin College was the seedbed, the fountain of abolitionism, in the pre-war-between-the-states period.
We have to look at Finney’s theology. Finney did not believe in the total depravity of man. He believed every man is born morally neutral; and therefore, every human being is perfectible. And because every human being is perfectible, then every society, every government, every culture is perfectible. So right there he’s governed by arrogance because he’s rejected what the Word of God says about the sinfulness of man.
They produced numerous abolitionists who riled people up; they were motivated by arrogance. They caused great division, great divisiveness, and as usual arrogance on one side creates an equal and opposite reaction on the other side, so the extreme radical hotheads in the South who were proslavery.
You have radical abolitionist who are firing everything up out of arrogance on the one side, and its reaction on the other side. This is not justifying either side at all, by the way, but the result was it led to war.
What’s the difference between Britain and America?
- On one side, they believed in the depravity of man and the ability to constrain man sinfulness, and they operated on humility.
- On the other side, they believe man was perfectible; you could establish a utopia, and the first thing to do was to get rid of slavery.
It led to the War Between the States, and a race problem today in the US that has never been solved. And seems to be getting worse and worse simply because the root of the tree in the United States is arrogance, and arrogance is always divisive, and arrogance is self-destructive.
Humility is necessary. A right thing must be done a right way, if it is done a wrong way, it will lead to destruction. The end does not justify the means and two wrongs never make a right. That is biblical; that is consistent with Christianity.
We as Bible-believing Christians must stand on biblical principles and address the injustices through legal constitutional means, not through street theater. That is how our system works. It was built in a way that within it there were the means to change it, to improve it, but we must not fall prey and conform to the pagan methods of the fallen corrupt world.
There is always that pressure to do it like everybody else is doing it. But the pagan way of thinking is always built on self-absorption, arrogance and self-justification. We as believers must stand alone, often vilified by both sides. Because the world says, “You do it this way and you’re on our side, or you do it that way and you’re our enemy.”
But there’s always the third way which is God’s way. As believers we’re called to that higher standard.
I believe it’s important for all Christians to engage in cross-cultural ministry. This has been very difficult because of different ethnic background people will come together and worship in different ways, but we have to have great communication with one another. It’s not always easy. Often there’s misrepresentation and miscommunication, but because we have the Word of God and the Spirit of God, we can overcome these cultural differences.
Remember, the Word of God is often targeting our different cultural beliefs because they’re pagan, they’re wrong, they’re not biblical. So, we have to exchange the culture that we grow up with for the culture of biblical Christianity.
That was going on in the church between the Jew and the Gentile. And while there were still conflicts in early Christianity, the Judaizers came along and created a problem in Galatia. Other problems were related to that because it was ultimately grounded in arrogance.
Paul addressed that here in Ephesians 2:11–12; the self-righteous legalism of the Pharisees was just causing more and more division.
There was a root difference, but the root difference wasn’t based on any ethnic superiority, but on the grace of God, the provision of God and what God had provided for Israel in making them a special people through whom he would work. It didn’t improve them; it didn’t make them better. They had no right asserting some sort of racial superiority over the Gentiles. But that’s what they did, and it led to the destruction of Israel in AD 70.
Ephesians 2:13, Paul brings out the contrast, “but now we are believers in Christ, we are in Him, and we have a different standard of living.” We have a different basis. We are in Christ, and we have been blessed more than anyone else with all the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies.
Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Initially, he says, “But now.” This is in contrast to the Age of the Gentiles. There’s something new in this dispensation. It’s not just “but now,” it’s “but now in Christ Jesus.” For now, the Gentile is in Christ Jesus, and a change has taken place: Those who were “once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
The words “far and near” were used in the Old Testament to describe the Gentile nations as far off. Passages such as Deuteronomy 20:49, Deuteronomy 29:22, 1 Kings 8:41, Isaiah 5:26, and Jeremiah 5:15 all describe Gentile nations as being afar or distant, while Israel was described as being near God. For example, Psalm 148:14.
But now they have been brought together. Israel was thought of as near because God had blessed them with the Abrahamic Covenant. It’s not a nearness that is soteriological or spiritual. It was that God had chosen to work through them.
“But now.” The reason they’re brought near is through the blood of Christ. That’s what makes the difference. We need to understand this term, this phrase, and we will do that next time: understanding the significance of the blood of Christ and what the Scripture says about what it has accomplished.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study these things this morning, to be reminded of all that You have provided for us. To recognize that as believers in Christ we are not to succumb to these racial prejudices that have so often been a blight in our culture, but we are to live above that.
We are to live above the fray, to live above the human viewpoint solutions, and to stick with the biblical solutions: to focus upon You, to focus on prayer, and operate totally within the law respecting governing authorities.
Father, we thank You that we have the guidance of Scripture, because it teaches us how we are to live tranquil and peaceable lives and how we are to be in a position to give people the truth of God’s word and to shine as a light on a wicked and perverse generation.
For the believer there is a higher standard, and that is a standard exemplified in the salvation God wrought among us by sending His Son who loved us so much that He went to the cross to die for us, setting a standard for us. As He said to His disciples, “that all men will know that You are My disciples because You love one another as I have loved You.”
Father, we pray that You would challenge those who might be listening to this message with the issue of their eternal spiritual state. The issue to be a Christian is simply to trust in Christ as Savior. Scripture says very clearly that it is only by faith in Christ, believing in Him. That’s how we become a Christian, but how we live as a Christian is different.
It doesn’t happen automatically. We have to study the Word, we have to have our thinking transformed and changed, not according to human viewpoint forms of thinking, but according to biblical norms and standards.
Father, we pray that You would open the eyes of the unsaved to the need for the gospel and open the eyes of believers that they need to understand what it means to walk humbly before You, what it means to love one another, and that we face and handle problems in this life on a totally different basis than the world around us. This is what sets us apart as Christians.
Father, we thank You for the opportunity to study these things today. In Christ’s name, amen.”