God’s Presence and Gideon’s Mission


One of our ministers has been going through the book of Judges in Sunday School. As I read the story of Gideon in Judges 6, I came across a passage on God’s presence with Gideon that got my attention when I read it the last time.  It clearly ties God’s presence with Gideon’s mission, one of many illustrations of Immanuel labor.

There are a multitude of stories of ordinary men and women of faith where we see God’s presence enabling them to perform a difficult task that God called them to do. I have written about this in previous articles (see one from September 2015 and another posted in March 2017.)

In Judges 6:12, an angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, and declares, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”  Upon hearing this grand pronouncement, Gideon does not acknowledge its truth.  He asks an honest question that most of us have probably asked, regarding why God allows suffering: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (v. 13).  Gideon refers to God’s deliverance out of Egypt, which I am always glad to see, as it brings us back to the Exodus and God’s covenant faithfulness.

I have to pause here a bit before moving on the point of this story. In verses 11 and 12, we read that the person speaking with Gideon is referred to as “the angel of the LORD”.  Then, in verse 14, to answer Gideon’s hard question, it states, “The LORD turned to him and said”, and in verse 16, we read, “The LORD answered”.  So, who is speaking to Gideon, an angel, or the LORD Himself?

Some commentators have concluded that this angel of the LORD must have been Jesus. There are other uses of the angel of the LORD in the OT: Gen. 16:7, 22:15; Ex. 14:19; Num. 22:23; Judges 2:1; Isa. 63:9.  In each of these angelic appearances, the reactions of those who are spoken to and the way this individual is described have caused some to speculate that they could be more than just an angel.

Although this interpretation has some merit, there are several reasons why I do not wholeheartedly accept the view that it is Jesus. First, there is nothing in the NT to support the idea that Jesus appeared in the OT.  The doctrine of the incarnation prevents me from believing that the Son of God in His pre-incarnate state would have a body.  The gospel accounts of Jesus’ immaculate conception and birth in Matthew, Luke, and John paint a vivid picture of the divine Son of God becoming fully man at that moment in time.  It would be a stretch of the imagination to believe that Jesus would have been able to appear in physical form on numerous occasions in the OT.  Second, when this same term is used in the NT (Matt. 28:2; Acts 8:26, 27:23), it obviously does not refer to Jesus.  Third, our understanding of angels teaches us that they are beings whose super-human physical appearance causes fear and trembling and that they are God’s messengers who speak the words of God on His behalf.  When those who were visited by these angels worshipped them or addressed them as LORD, they are merely acknowledging God’s presence with them.  There is no good reason for me to believe that in Judges 6 and elsewhere that they are anything more than angels who have been sent by God (of the LORD).

The LORD, through His angel, responds to Gideon’s question about the presence of God in Judges 6:14. He said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.  Am I not sending you?”  The implication is clear.  God did not stutter.   It was said through the angel earlier that the LORD was with Gideon.  It is re-emphasized here that He was sending Gideon to fight the Midianites.  Gideon is reluctant, pointing out to an all-knowing God that he alone does not have the strength to save Israel.  His clan is the weakest and he is the least.  How can he possibly be a mighty warrior, as he was greeted back in v. 12?

The answer is simple. “The LORD answered, ‘I will be with you’” (v. 16).  That is all that matters.

Here’s a simple math equation that comes out of this passage: Zero plus God equals more than enough.  Through God’s presence, the work would be done through Gideon in spite of his weakness.

This passage about Gideon is far from an isolated instance. If you turn to Ex. 3:10-14, you will read a similar situation.  At the burning bush, God tells Moses that He was sending him to Pharaoh.  Moses basically says, “I am not enough.”  God replies, “I AM!”  It did not matter that God’s chosen vessel was a cracked pot.  In fact, it brings God more glory this way.  His presence alone would empower Moses to get the job done.  Moses just needed to trust and obey, as did Gideon.

In the end, God used Gideon to defeat the Midianites (see Judges 7). As a result, the land had peace for 40 years (Judges 8:28).  God’s divine presence enabled Gideon to accomplish the mission.


Our Identity in Christ (Lesson 7)

This is the seventh of eight Sunday School lessons I taught last fall. In this session, we explore the radical and irreversible transformation that happens internally and externally to every genuine follower of Jesus Christ.  It is a transformation initiated by God, by grace through faith in Christ, and brought about by the Holy Spirit in the process we call sanctification.  It is a divine partnership, which involves our cooperation, by faith and obedience.


Here is a definition of the new birth: “The new birth is a creative life-giving operation of the Holy Spirit upon a lost human soul, whereby in response to faith in Christ crucified (John 3:14-15; Gal. 3:24), the believing one, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), is quickened into spiritual life, and made a partaker of the divine nature and of the life of Christ Himself (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:20; Col. 1:27; 1 Peter 1:23-25; 2 Peter 1:4). The complete necessity of this spiritual transaction is the result of fallen man’s state of spiritual death, his alienation from God and his consequent utter inability to “see” (John 3:3) or “to enter” into “the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). No matter how moral, refined, talented, or religious the natural or unregenerate man may be, he is blind to spiritual truth and unable to save himself (John 3:6; Psa. 51:5; 1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:7-8). It is patent, therefore, that the new birth is not the reformation of the old nature but the reception of a new Nature.”  (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger, Moody Press, 1977, page 152.)

I love this definition. It emphasizes its absolute necessity, based on John 3:3 and 5.  We are born “blind to spiritual truth”, as is every non-believer.  We must be regenerated, not just reformed.

Last week we looked at the process of our radical transformation. As Unger emphasized above, this was required because we could not see nor enter in the Kingdom by ourselves. All true believers in Jesus Christ (i.e., followers/disciples) were born again, regenerated, converted, and transformed at the very moment of salvation.  When the Holy Spirit indwells us, we are changed.

So, what actually changed? Your DNA?  Probably not.  (Although, with advances in genetic studies, scientists keep finding genes for various tendencies, so it is not outside the realm of the possible that God does change us at the molecular level.)  What about your appearance?  Perhaps; especially to those who knew you before and after your conversion.  Your thoughts and mind?  Definitely!  Your feelings, desires, attitudes, abilities, and relationships as well, were dramatically altered the hour you first believed.  We have new resources we did not have before, and need now.


1) Thoughts/Mind.

a) Read Rom. 12:2. Be transformed. Is this active or passive, or both?  What is involved?

(Teacher notes: I think it is clear from this verse that we are to allow the Holy Spirit to transform our minds. This in itself is passive.  This ongoing process of sanctification begins when we accept Christ.  God initiates, but we have an active role. This transformation happens “by the renewing of our minds”. Our minds get renewed first of all when we recognize that the world’s value system is bankrupt, counter to God’s truth in many ways. We are to actively choose to not be conformed, but to be transformed in our minds by soaking in God’s word whenever we can.  It can be augmented with sermons, Christian music, and other means, but the main thing that each of us have to do is to take time to read, study, and meditate on the Bible.)

b) Read 1 Cor. 2: 6-16. What is one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit?  How is Jesus involved?

(Teacher notes: Paul describes the spiritual wisdom that the Holy Spirit reveals to His followers. It is not “of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing” (v. 6).  It is described as “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden” (v. 7).  Verse 12 tells us that each of us who follow Jesus receive God’s Holy Spirit “that we may understand what God has freely given us.”  Paul concludes, “we have the mind of Christ” (v. 16).  This spiritual wisdom increases over time as mature in consistent faith and obedience to God’s Word.

c) Read 2 Peter 1:3-9. What have we been given to live out the Christian life?  What is our part?  (Teacher notes: Peter states boldly that we have been given “everything we need for a godly life” (v. 3).  It starts with knowledge of “his very great and precious promises” (v. 3).  This leads to faith, which is our acceptance of the basic truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As we pursue that faith with continued trust and obedience resulting in spiritual growth/fruit (i.e., goodness, knowledge, self-control), these things become effective and productive in helping us to know Jesus more.)

2) Feelings/Attitudes/Desires.

a) Read Rom. 7:22; 8:9. How does Paul describe how he has changed?  Who is in control?

(Teacher notes: I did not fully comprehend Romans 7 until fairly recently. I knew it described Paul’s struggle between flesh and Spirit, which is obviously ours as well.  But I missed a critical detail.  He states in 7:22 that in his inner being” he delights in God’s law.  This stands in stark contrast to what Paul has taught in the previous seven chapters of Romans, that both Jew and Gentile stand condemned as sinners.  We understand from a previous lesson that Paul has made it quite clear in Eph. 2:1-3 and other places that we were dead, separated from God – His enemies.  There was nothing good in us.  We were sinners by nature.  But now, in Rom. 7:22, we see that he somehow “delights in God’s law.”  This indicates that a supernatural internal transformation has taken place at the core of Paul’s will, his feelings, attitudes, and desires.  He is not merely flesh; by God’s Holy Spirit he now has a new Master.  The flesh is not in control of his inner being – the Holy Spirit is.  He has moved from one sphere to another, and that changes everything about him.  Those of us who follow Christ have had that same transfer from darkness to light.)

b) Read 2 Cor. 4:16-18. Paul presents another contrast.  What is happening to us inwardly?

(Teacher notes: The contrast is clear. Outwardly, we are falling apart.  This could be seen as physically, due to Paul’s advancing age and after years of suffering for Christ, or externally, due to the trials of life.  Life wears us down as we mature in Christ.  And yet, there is a greater thing happening inwardly.  We are “being renewed day by day” (v. 16).  I cannot help but think about the memorable song “Day by Day” from the musical Godspell, which God used to draw me to Himself in the mid-70’s.  I made the chorus my own prayer, one that I still pray occasionally to this day over 40 years later: “Day by day; day by day.  Lord, dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.”  He is renewing us; we do well to assist in that renewal by welcoming it and seeking after it by grace through faith and obedience.)

c) Read Phil. 1:6. Personally, this is one of most powerful promises in the Bible.  What does God do?

(Teacher notes: This profound promise has stuck with me my entire Christian life. He began the good work in me.  He called; I had to respond.  He transformed.  He continues to transform.  When I veer from the path of spiritual growth, He disciplines me according to Heb. 12:5-11.  This process, which seems to be irreversible, will continue until Jesus comes back or He calls me home.)

3) Abilities/resources.

a) Read 1 Cor. 10:13.  What does God provide with respect to temptation?

(Teacher notes: The answer is simple. God provides a way out – every single time we are tempted to sin.  We can never say, “The Devil made me do it.”  We always have a choice to make, but more importantly, we have a new supernatural source of strength as Christians that empowers us to flee the flesh, have faith to overcome the world, and fight Satan directly when necessary with the armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18).)

b) Read 2 Cor. 10:3-5. What does God provide with respect to fighting spiritual battles in the mind?

(Teacher notes: In addition to the power of the Spirit to fight temptation, we also have access to new resources to wrestle our thought life before it leads to sinful actions. Paul says that “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world” (v. 4). These offensive weapons that complement the mostly defensive weapons described in Eph. 6, have “divine power”.  They enable us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (v. 5).  I don’t know about you, but I wrestle with my thought life daily.  My imagination is my greatest strength, which can also become my greatest weakness.  I definitely need to use these weapons that are available to me.)

c) Read Col. 3:9-10. What does God provide with respect to our becoming more Christ-like?

(Teacher notes: Paul uses an illustration with which we can all identify. Every day, and for those who exercise regularly, sometimes two or three times in a day, we remove old sweaty clothing, and put on new clothing.  When we become Christians, we are given a new nature, which we have explored in-depth over the past few weeks.  Paul says that this new nature is being renewed, which sounds like a contradiction – Why is something that is new need to be renewed?  The process of sanctification, becoming more Christlike in thoughts, attitudes, and actions, does not happen overnight.  It happens a little bit more every day that we intentionally walk with God, abide in Christ, and are filled with the Holy Spirit.)

4) Relationships.

a) Read John 1:12-13. Who are we in Christ?  What are the implications of this new relationship?

(Teacher notes: John says that all of us who have received Jesus and believed in His name are declared to be “children of God”. We understand this to mean those who have repented of our sin, submitted to the Lordship of Christ, and accepted Jesus by faith.  It is not true that “all people are God’s children”, which many in the world falsely believe.  What is implied is that we have a relationship with the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that we did not have before.  This new relationship carries with it both privilege and responsibility from now until eternity.)

b) Read Eph. 2:19-22. Who are we in Christ?  What are the implications of this new relationship?

(Teacher notes: In this passage, Paul explains that our new relationship with the Godhead is not merely vertical (up and down), but horizontal (left to right) as well. We are “fellow citizens with God’s people” (v. 19), who come from every race, tongue, and tribe; Jew and Gentile, male and female, black and white.  All who are in Christ are our brothers and sisters by faith.  This relationship supersedes all other divisions and labels.  We are going to spend eternity with this diverse group of Christ-followers, so we had better learn to experience unity here and now.)

c) Read 1 Peter 2:9-10. Who are we in Christ?  What are the implications of this new relationship?

(Teacher notes: This passage is the icing on the cake in describing who we really are in Christ. We are part of something way bigger than ourselves.  Whether we can fathom it or not, we are called priests, who represent God before the world.  This priesthood of which we are a part is said to be “royal”.  As God’s children, we are princes and princesses.  Peter states that we are part of a holy nation, one that has no geographical borders, but cuts across all boundaries.  We the recipients of God’s blessing to the world, which was promised to Abram in Gen. 12:2-3.)


As you reflect on these different aspects of the supernatural transformation you have experienced in your own life, and the resources you have, what are you most thankful for? What do you struggle with?


Your transformation into Christlikeness, a true partnership between you and God, is more about resting in what He has done than working for Him. However, by design, it is a cooperative partnership, one that hinges upon our dependence on God and continuing to pursue Him by grace, through faith and obedience.

Those Whose Work is Called Play


Sports were not valued much in the home where I grew up. My dad rarely watched sports on television, but he did take me to a New York Mets game at Shea Stadium once. I played baseball as a kid, and was a member of a neighborhood swim team as a teenager. Now, with few exceptions (such as the Winter Olympics) I have very little interest in any kind of sport.

Consequently, in my writings on the theology of work, I had not focused on those who worked in the field of professional sports. I was unaware how it fit into my biblical perspective.

Last December, I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled on an article posted on Facebook by Focus on the Family, entitled “What Does it Mean to Play for an ‘Audience of One’?” The article was written by Ed Uszynski, who has been with Athletes in Action, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ (now CRU) for 25 years. He highlighted a new organization, the AO1 (Audience of One) Foundation, founded by Carson Wentz, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. The author shared a link to a short video featuring Carson and several players on his team who are clearly living for Christ, both on and off the field.

Two months later, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Eagles earned a spot in the Super Bowl. I cheered them on as they beat the New England Patriots in a splendid victory!

This article opened my eyes to those whose work is called play. These professional athletes, and many others like them, work and play for an audience of one, obeying Paul’s words in Col. 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

Ed described what the concept of playing for an audience of one means. Here are a few points he made that I found inspiring:

  • “It DOESN’T mean playing ‘for God,’ as though we are performing for Him, trying to earn His applause or favor by being successful in our competition.”
  • “It DOES mean playing ‘with God,’ constantly aware of His presence in the midst of the game, competing completely focused on the job at hand while also completely aware that He is everywhere with us.”
  • “It DOESN’T mean receiving some sort of additional competitive blessing that others on the field cannot access. God as your primary audience does not mean He is predisposed to make sure you win or always come out on top of the competition.”
  • “It DOES mean that no matter what happens on the scoreboard in a particular game, God’s kingdom values keep the game in perspective, allowing you to be disappointed in a loss and excited in a win without losing sight of other priorities.”

That second bullet above illustrates quite well my own theology of work, which is summarized by the term “Immanuel labor”, meaning experiencing God’s presence in our profession.

Let me try to explain how professional sports as a career field fits into a theology of work.

I must admit, I am hard-pressed to find a direct connection between professional sports and the kind of work that God routinely does through the work of His people. This does not diminish its value in any way. I just have to think a little more creatively to highlight its value, that’s all.

I want to refer to an article I wrote and posted last summer on the value of the arts. We often think of artists, musicians, actors as being the opposite of jocks. (At least it was that way in high school wasn’t it?)  However, I observe that sports events are not so different from a drama. There are players on a stage. There is conflict. There are the standard plot elements of a good story: man against man, man against himself, man against nature (thinking of the Olympic skiing events). There is resolution. There are tears, laughter, and a shared experience with others that was memorable. We are inspired by the teams and individuals who overcome great odds to win. We see the strength, endurance, and beauty of men and women performing in ways that amaze us, causing us to be amazed by the one who created us in His image. Sporting events have value. Thus, from a biblical view, the athletes that are paid to play indeed do work that is of value.

I must briefly mention something about spiritual gifts. Success on the field has given well-known players like Carson Wentz, Tim Tebow, Benjamin Watson, and many others a public platform. There, they are able to use their spiritual gift of giving off the field, sharing much of their financial blessings with worthy causes to bless others around the world in Jesus’ name.

In closing, let me mention one more thing that is unique to the experience of these football players, which is also found among believers in other team sports.

I recently watched another powerful video about the Philadelphia Eagles. I was struck by the power of unity amidst diversity they experience as brothers in Christ. I was reminded of Jesus’ promise, that “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20). Once again, this illustrates God’s presence at work. You can see how much of a blessing it is to the team. The genuine unity and love they have for one another demonstrates the reality of their faith in Jesus Christ. I conclude that professional athletes can most certainly glorify God in their work.

Our Identity in Christ (Lesson 6)


This is the sixth of eight Sunday School lessons that I taught from mid-October through mid-December. It was an in-depth study of a critical topic that many Christians do not understand.

Let me begin with a series of quotes from a book we have referred to a few times in this series.

“In that moment when you received Christ as Savior, not only were you justified and delivered from God’s wrath, but God made a very special change inside of you – he changed your attitude about him. Before that, with your back toward God, you were “alienated and hostile in mind” (Colossians 1:21).  But now, realizing that the offense of your sin has been removed by the blood of Christ, you turn around.  What do you see?  You see the compassionate face of a loving God with open arms reaching out toward you.  What do you do?  You run into those open arms.  You are no longer hostile!  You have been reconciled to God. . . .This would seem to take care of everything – justified and reconciled.  But it doesn’t.  It is to that second change inside of us we now turn.  It involves a biblical truth that is so marvelous we might easily hesitate to believe it.”  (Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are?, David Needham; Multnomah Publishers, 1999; page 61.)

“Contrary to much popular teaching, becoming a Christian is more than having something taken away (sins forgiven), or having something added to you (a new nature plus the assistance of the Holy Spirit); it is becoming someone you had never been before. It is justification + reconciliation and regeneration.  The new identity is not on a flesh level, but on the deepest level of one’s inmost self. This miracle is more than a judicial or positional act of God. It is an act so actual that it is right to say a Christian’s essential nature is righteous rather than sinful. In a sense, one could say that justification is salvation as viewed from above, where God sits as a righteous judge issuing his judicial declaration. Reconciliation touches both “above” and “down here” as it affirms that since the wrath of God has been satisfied through Jesus’ blood, we who were once enemies are now friends. We have responded to God’s love by loving him and all that he is. Regeneration is salvation viewed from below, where we experience God’s internal miracle of being alive with the life of Jesus by the Spirit. These together not only remove us from God’s wrath, but qualify us to fit – to actually fit! – in his righteous kingdom through the possession of Jesus’ risen, eternal life in a restored relationship.”  (Needham, pages 71-72.)

“What does this all mean? It means that by the new birth, you and I are now participants in the ultimate new age of God’s eternal purposes.  We are living within the fulfillment of the prophets’ aching dreams and God’s promised miracle.  We are now, actually, the internally transformed citizens in God’s kingdom of righteousness – where Jesus reigns, within the kingdom of our hearts.”  (Needham, page 77.)

So, what has Needham reminded us? He wants us to understand that God did not merely change His mind about us when we became Christians.  There is more to salvation than God seeing us as justified, redeemed, and forgiven.  He has done a miracle inside us as well.  Needham stated, “The new identity is not on a flesh level, but on the deepest level of one’s inmost self.”  God did things to each of us internally that we could not have done by ourselves.  He radically changed our basic orientation from day one.  This transformation continues to develop and mature us into Christlikeness over the course of our whole life.  This is what we will discuss in today’s lesson.


1) Read John 3:1-8.  How much of the things of God can a person experience prior to regeneration?

(Teacher notes: I am sure that most Christians are familiar with this passage. Here is Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, where Jesus tells him “You must be born again” (John 3:3).  Jesus is not primarily giving Nicodemus (and anyone else who reads it) a command to be born again or “born from above”.  To the contrary, I believe that Jesus is stating a fact. No one can even begin to see clearly enough to make a decision to come to Jesus unless something supernatural happens to them first. Because of our understanding of the sinful nature of man (AKA the doctrine of original sin), we know that we must be given new spiritual eyes to see Him and new ears to hear Him.  Jesus often said, “Let him who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 13:9).  A couple of verses later, we see that Jesus did not mean every person who physically had ears on their heads.  He was addressing those who by His grace, were allowed to hear God’s voice.  Jesus clarified, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them” (Matt. 13:11).  Jesus explained to His disciples, “Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear” (Matt. 13:16).  This corresponds to what we discussed last week in John 10, verses 3-4 and 27, about Jesus’ sheep hearing his voice.  So, back to what Jesus said in John 3:3: we must be born again.  There must be a place and time where our new life in Christ starts.  Yes, coming to faith is a process, similar to the 9-month development in the womb.  Nevertheless, there is a birthday, which includes the exact time that we took our first breath, which is put on the birth certificate when you and I came out into this world.  From that point forward, life will never be the same.  It is the same way for each one of us when we become a Christian.  Jesus re-emphasized in John 3:5 and 7 that we cannot enter the Kingdom of God on our own; there must be a second birth caused by the Spirit of God.)

2) Read 2 Cor. 5:17.  What does it mean to be “in Christ”?

(Teacher notes: We discussed this idea of Christians being a new creation in my last lesson from weeks 4 and 5.  Paul’s point is simple.  Those who are identified with Jesus Christ by faith have been and are being transformed into His likeness.  The doctrinal term that theologians use is “sanctification”.  This internal transformation is portrayed as a radical and irreversible change in one’s nature.  Paul uses this term “in Christ” quite often in the book of Romans.  (See Rom. 6:11, 23, 8:1, and 12:5.)  Paul says that we are baptized “into Christ” in Rom. 6:3.  Baptism is a very personal and public declaration of our faith in and submission to Jesus.  It is an outward symbol of an inward reality.  We are identifying ourselves with Jesus’ death and resurrection; dying to self and being raised to new life in Him.  When we become unified with Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells us.  (See Rom. 8:9-11.)  He is the source of this one-time and ongoing transformation.)

3) Read Gal. 6:15.  To what is Paul referring here?  (See Ezek. 36:26.)

(Teacher notes: Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written in response to a problem in the local church in Galatia.  [Note: I am glad Paul did not write to the church in Dalmatia, as we might have an epistle to the Dalmatians.  It probably would have had 101 verses.  Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.]  But seriously, there was a problem with legalism.  Christians came to Jesus by grace through faith, but then were being taught by some false teachers that they also needed to keep the Jewish laws.  This unnecessary burden was in clear contradiction to the gospel of Jesus Christ, so Paul had to set them straight.  His point at the end of this epistle in 6:15 is that what really mattered was the inward transformation that came from the Holy Spirit (see Gal. 5:16-18), not any outward mutilation of the flesh according to the OT Law.  This change of heart was a direct fulfillment of OT prophecy concerning the New Covenant, which we had discussed before.)

4) Read Titus 3:3-8.  Note the contrast of lifestyles before and after conversion.  What happened?

(Teacher notes: One of Paul’s main purposes in writing this epistle is to teach that genuine faith in Christ results in a changed life.  He reminds his readers what they were like before Christ in v. 3.  Paul contrasts this with a “but” in v. 4.  Because of God’s kindness and covenant love expressed through Jesus Christ, God saved us.  Our salvation was not dependent on our good or righteous works, but rather, by His mercy (v. 5).  As a result of us being cleansed and receiving a “rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit”, we are called to respond appropriately by devoting ourselves “to doing what is good” (v. 8).  Again, this supernatural rebirth at the moment of salvation led to a radical transformation that is without a doubt an irreversible event.)

5) Read James 1:18.  Who did the choosing?  Who did the giving?  What was the purpose?

(Teacher notes: To echo Jesus and Paul, James also mentions the new birth that all Christians experience.  I like James’ emphasis on the fact that God chose to give us this new birth in Christ, which we discussed earlier.  God not only chose us, but He gave this to us through the word of truth, the gospel, which is the message of good news found in Jesus alone.   His purpose in doing so was that we would be the firstfruits, like His first-born Son, the best of all that He created.)

6) Read 1 Peter 1:3-5, 23.  What does He say about the inheritance that comes with salvation?

(Teacher notes: I like this section, because it ties in so well with what we have read earlier. Peter specifically mentions that the new birth we were given was because of God’s mercy, which Paul also did in Titus 3:5.  He goes on to mention a couple of other things that we have not yet seen.  This new birth gives us a “living hope” which is based on Jesus’ resurrection.  Peter adds to this hope an inheritance that is ours; one that is eternal in nature.  More importantly, it is one that “can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you”.  If that wasn’t enough to convince us that our eternal destiny in Christ is secure, Peter continues.  He states that we, through our genuine faith in Christ, “are shielded by God’s power” until Jesus returns.  The point of mentioning this passage in our discussion of our internal transformation, is to show that the new birth changes not only our present but our future.  Since we did absolutely nothing to earn this inheritance (it is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ), we can do nothing to lose it.  The changes in our status before God and the changes to our very orientation are permanent.  God chose us so that we could believe in His Son, be forgiven, be internally transformed by His Holy Spirit, reflect His nature in our attitudes and behavior, and then spend eternity with Him.  That is who we are in Christ, and where we are going.  Knowing these truths should set us free!)


What difference does knowing all this make in your day-to-day experience (i.e., walk) with God? When you first became a Christian, what did you see as evidence of your spiritual transformation?  What have you seen that has been transforming since that moment?


Is there some other area of your lifestyle that still needs to be transformed into Christlikeness?

Our Identity in Christ (Lessons 4 and 5)

After taking a short break over Christmas, I am eager to post the remaining Sunday School lessons I taught this fall on the topic of our identity in Christ. Here are my 4th and 5th sessions. (It took two weeks to get through all of the Scriptures I had chosen.  There was a lot to discuss.)


What is an inheritance? When do you get it?  What do you have to do to receive it?

When each of us repented of our sins, surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and accepted Him by faith as our Lord and Savior, at that very moment of salvation, we entered in to all the blessings of the New Covenant we discussed last week. These next two weeks, we will look at the things that became true of each of us “positionally” as born-again believers (i.e., justified, reconciled, forgiven, righteous, holy).  These things are true of all believers, not because of what we did, but because of what Jesus did for us, and how God sees us “in Christ”.  This will lay an important foundation to where we will go over the remaining weeks of this study as to what new resources we receive as believers (i.e., God’s Holy Spirit, a new nature, the very mind of Christ.)


1) Read John 5:24, 6:35-40, 44-51; 10:1-16, 24-30.  Discuss what is said about Jesus’ sheep.

(Teacher notes: There is so much to see here. In 5:25, he gives the first of many clear indications of what we call eternal security. Jesus says that those who believe have eternal life; they will NOT be condemned. He describes this one-time action that happens to every believer as a crossing over from death to life. That sounds irreversible to me. In 6:37-40, Jesus uses the word “never” to describe what will not ever happen to those who come to Him in faith (which is exactly the same number of those that the Father gives to him). Jesus promises that His followers will never go hungry, never be thirsty, and that He will never drive them away. He reemphasized the fact that those who “choose” to come to Him are those that the Father gave to him. Their destiny is that they will be raised up on the last day. Just so His listeners heard Him clearly, Jesus restates the promise: everyone who believes in Him has eternal life. In 6:44-51, Jesus says the same thing about the Father drawing us to Himself, which results in us coming to faith in Jesus, which brings us everlasting life. It is not about what we do or fail to do. It is about God choosing us, calling us to faith in Jesus Christ, and us believing in Him, which qualifies us to spend eternity with Him. John 10 gives us another glimpse into what is true of those who are Jesus’ sheep. Jesus is clearly the shepherd here. He says that “He call his own sheep by name” (10:3). They follow him (verse 4). Whoever enters through faith in Jesus “will be saved” (verse 9). In 10:24-30, in contrast to the description of Jesus’ sheep, we see that the Jews who did not believe in Jesus were declared to be “not my sheep” (verse 26). Once again, in verses 27-29, Jesus states what is true about those who are His sheep. No one (no, not even ourselves) can “snatch us out of the Father’s hand.”)

2) Read Romans 3:21-26. Where does “righteousness” come from? How does it come to us?

(Teacher notes: Twice in this passage, Paul teaches that the righteousness that both Jew and Gentile have been fruitlessly seeking on their own comes from God. It is not by keeping the Law, which was so important to the Jews, but by God’s grace, which was foreshadowed in the Law and the Prophets. (For example, the narrative of Abram in Gen. 15, which Paul will discuss in the next chapter of Romans.) This righteousness or right standing before God comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. All who believe are freely justified (just as if I’d never sinned) by God’s grace based solely on the atonement that Jesus our Redeemer made for our sins on the cross.)

3) Read Romans 4:3-8; 5:1-2. What does it mean to be justified?  How does this come to us?

(Teacher notes: Here, in 4:3-8, Paul uses Abraham and David as examples from the OT to show that the message of redemption found through faith in Jesus does not contradict the OT, but is actually supported by the OT. One does not become righteous (justified) by good works; Paul has already demonstrated that this is impossible. One becomes righteous when in a wicked condition one comes to faith in Christ. This is a free gift. In 5:1-2, Paul explains that our justification (by grace through faith) brings peace between God and us. This is not the “peace of God, that passes all understanding”, which Paul mentions in Phil. 4:7. This is a peace between wicked humans and a holy God. Jesus Christ made peace through His sacrifice on the cross.)

4) Read Romans 8:1-4. Why is there no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus?

(Teacher notes: Everyone who has heard me teach a time or two knows that Rom. 8:1 is a central promise of the gospel. This clear promise that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus is a lens that we can use to help us interpret those warning passages that might appear to say that a Christian can choose to take a path that will result in losing their salvation. We must understand why Paul can make such a dramatic statement; one that once again implies an irreversible change in one’s condition based on their faith in Jesus. Verses 2-4 explain why those who have faith in Christ are not condemned. It is simply because of what Jesus has done, not because of anything we ourselves have done. Jesus set me free from the law of sin that led to spiritual death. We are under a new law now – the “law of the Spirit of life”. The law was powerless to change us; only God could do that through Christ. Jesus death paid the penalty as a once-for-all sin offering, which means that we are now seen as righteous in God’s eyes.)

5) Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. What kinds of people were we?  What did God do for us in Christ?

(Teacher notes: We talked about the kinds of people each of us were before we came to faith in Week 2, but we did not look at this particular passage. Paul is contrasting the lifestyle of the believer and non-believer in this section, as the church in Corinth did not quite grasp that their conversion should radically change their conduct. In verse 11, he states plainly that many believers used to practice the kind of evil things that are obviously not typical of Christians.  But, he says, we were washed, we were sanctified (meaning declared holy, set apart), and we were justified. God redeemed us where we were, but loved us too much to let us stay where we were. By His amazing grace, we were set free from the flesh, the world, and the devil, and brought into a new kingdom that is characterized by righteousness.  We did not earn this righteousness by our own efforts. It was given to us by grace through faith in Christ. God supernaturally delivered us from sin and declared us righteous based on what Christ did on our behalf.)

6) Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. What does it mean to be reconciled? Who did this work for us?

(Teacher notes: Before we discuss reconciliation, there is another key element in our identity in Christ that we absolutely must understand. In 5:17, we read that we are new creatures in Christ. This great pronouncement that all believers in Christ are a “new creation” echoes what the OT prophets taught about the New Covenant that would be in effect when the Messiah came. (See Jer. 31:31-34 and Ezek. 36:26-28.) Paul then expands a bit on the ramifications of what has taken place in the life of the believer. He states somewhat cryptically, “the old has gone, the new has come!” What could he have meant here? (Some well-meaning teachers have used this verse to condemn any kind of psychological therapy, even Christian counseling. They have misapplied what Paul said about the old being gone to mean that traumatic events from our past should not impact us in any way now, which is just plain hogwash. But I digress.) In context, I think what may have been in Paul’s mind was that what was true of us under the Old Covenant is gone. We are no longer slaves to sin or to the requirements of the Law. The New Covenant is now in effect, which is comprised of freedom from sin and the Law, grace, and being made new in the image of Christ through sanctification in the power of the Holy Spirit. All of this, Paul says, is from God. He then mentions our reconciliation. This is another way to look at the peace we have with God that was mentioned earlier in Rom. 5:1-2. We were enemies of God. Now we are His children (See John 1:12.) Paul states in verse 21 that God brought this reconciliation about through Christ’s work on the cross to make us righteous in His eyes.)

7) Read Ephesians 2:4-10. How did our position change when we became followers of Jesus?

(Teacher notes: In the previous verses just prior to this section (Eph. 2:1-3), Paul describes our condition before we met Christ by faith: we were dead in our sins; we followed the ways of the world, Satan, and the flesh; we were objects of God’s wrath. In verse 4, we see the stark contrast. “But, because of his great love for us”, Paul states, God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (verse 5). In addition, verse 6 informs us that “God raised us up with Christ.” He concludes in verse 8, “It is by grace we have been saved.” Moreover, Paul clarifies all that he and Jesus had said on this subject previously in verse 9: “This [is] not from ourselves, it is the gift of God.” It is not about what we did for God; it is about what God did for us. Lest anyone think incorrectly that our change in position as righteous means that we do not need to pursue righteousness as a result of this declaration, Paul clarifies in verse 10 that we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. Our good works are merely a natural response to God’s work on our behalf.)

8) Read Colossians 1:9-14, 21-22, 2:13-14. Note the imagery of the Exodus in 1:13. What blessings do we all have in this New Covenant promised land to which He has brought us?

(Teacher notes: Colossians contains a lot of similarities with the book of Ephesians. Here in Col. 1, we see some parallels to what we read in Eph. 2. In verses 9-11, we see Paul’s prayer for the church. What I want you to notice is an echo to what we read earlier regarding the natural connection between faith and conduct. True spiritual maturity and understanding leads to Christlike behavior. In verses 12-14, we again see our new identity in Christ. We were delivered from darkness to light, and brought into the kingdom of God, where Jesus reigns. His New Covenant is one of redemption and forgiveness. Note that the verbs are passive, not active. These are things that were done for us: He qualified us, rescued us, and brought us into a land of promise. I do not want you to miss the clear tie-in to the Exodus, where God’s people were rescued from the dominion of darkness in Egypt, crossed over the Red Sea, and brought to a place where God’s presence would lead them and where His protection and power would give them victory over their enemies. Verses 21-22 reiterate what Paul said in Eph. 2, that we used to be God’s enemies, but He has now reconciled us by Christ’s sacrificial death in order to present us “holy in his sight”. He repeats this theme in 2:13-14, teaching that we were “dead in our sins”, God made us “alive with Christ.” At the moment of salvation, he also “forgave us all our sins”. All of these truths should make us grateful for all He has done for us and freely given to us in Christ. Again, these truths also indicate the irreversible nature of the changes to our identity and new right standing before God.)

9) Read Hebrews 10:1-4, 10-23. Contrast the old covenant sacrifices with Jesus’ sacrifice.

(Teacher notes: This section of Hebrews is one of my favorites. In 10:1-4, the writer continues to show the stark contrast between the law, which was “only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves”, with the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this passage, the focus is on the OT sacrificial system. In itself, it could “never by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect” those who brought the offering. It had no power to truly change the heart of the believer and make them holy. As a result, it could not offer complete cleansing for those who brought the sacrifice, nor could it remove their guilty feelings. Even though this system was indeed set up by God to cover the sin of the believer under Mosaic Law, it was always limited. It could not completely take away their sin. We know that in Christ, all of that is changed. What the OT sacrifices could not do, Jesus does. The clear implication I see is that Jesus’ sacrifice, for those who accept Him, not only brings complete forgiveness, but it also perfects us because it changes us from the inside out. Accepting His forgiveness does offer complete cleansing; knowing this does remove the guilty feelings also. Jesus does indeed take away the penalty, shame, and power of sin from us. Skip to verses 10-23. Here, we see that Jesus one-time sacrifice makes us holy (verses 10 and 12). In verse 14, what I took to be implied in the earlier passage is directly mentioned – Jesus’ sacrifice did make us “perfect” (i.e., holy in God’s eyes). This status also gives us hope of inner transformation (sanctification) ; it says that we are “being made holy”. In verses 16 and 17, the writer of Hebrews then summarizes the promises of the New Covenant as it was described in Jer. 31:33 (which he also quoted in chapter 8 of Hebrews). Two key elements of this new deal that were realized when Jesus appeared reflect inner transformation – “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds”, as well as complete forgiveness – “their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” As a result, in verse 19, “we have confidence” to approach God (because our sins truly are forgiven). With this confidence, in verse 22, we are exhorted to draw near to God “in full assurance of faith”, which is based in part on the fact that our hearts have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. This cleansing does remove the guilty conscience for all those who have come to Jesus by faith and accept His free gift of forgiveness, as we mentioned earlier in verse 2. I must say again that the radical change in how God sees those who are in Christ (as holy), in addition to the radical changes that occur in the heart of each believer at the moment of salvation, indicate that these things may be irreversible.)


“This is a most wonderful truth. I can rest in the fact that God accomplished this without any dubious ‘book juggling.’  Before the infinite Judge of the universe, according to his own flawless reckoning, I now possess total forgiveness and acceptance.  I am justified!  I am judicially righteous, positionally righteous.  This is the way God sees me.”  (Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are?, David Needham; Multnomah Publishers, 1999; page 57.)


Try something different this week. Rest in the finished work of Christ.  There is no need for striving to be perfect, no need to work your way into God’s favor, no need to punish yourself for your mistakes, or think that God is punishing you.  Rest.  Accept His peace and forgiveness.

God’s Faithfulness Through the Generations

There was a country song recorded about eight years ago by Brad Paisley called “Two People Fell in Love”. He points out the obvious – that every one of us owes our very existence to the simple fact that at one moment in time two people fell in love. He describes a family reunion where members from five generations came in from 15 different states to have a picnic every June, all because 60 years ago Stanley Wilson knew that Ms. Emma Tucker was the one for him.

I mention this because I have recently embarked on a journey, not unlike one that many others have taken, to discover my roots.

Two days ago, my son and wife were looking at the family tree information that my wife had collected a number of years ago. Her family has done a much better job about that than mine. I went to the internet to find some tools to help me build our family tree, and discovered MyHeritage.com. Fairly quickly I was able to begin to create a database where I could log in what I already knew, in hopes that I could find much more information about our roots. I was impressed by this site. After spending several hours Friday night on this project (and paying a small annual fee), I was able to place over 270 people on our family tree with great detail. I was also able to locate several supporting historical documents such as actual census reports from 1940 and earlier and two high school yearbook photos of my mom.

To borrow a phrase that comes up often from one of our key leaders at work, “This is all mildly interesting.” However, I do not want anyone to miss the point, which was hinted at in the title of this article. God’s mighty hand of protection and blessing is all over the Gehrlein family tree.

The faithfulness of God is something I hold very dear. My favorite old hymn, which they had better sing at my funeral, is “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. This key attribute of God is clearly revealed and illustrated often in Scripture and in the life of His Son Jesus. Psalm 36:5 link God’s love and faithfulness together: “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.”

God’s faithfulness is also tied to His sovereignty. Since God is ultimately in control of His plans for His people, in spite of their apparent freedom of choice (yes, I am a Calvinist), He is able to control the very circumstances that led to our creation through two imperfect people who fell in love. The way I see it, God ensured that these ancestors in our family tree did what they were supposed to do so that we as His children now could do the things we are called to do.

Let me close with another appropriate verse from Psalm 100:5: “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Praise be to God for His faithfulness to His children!

Non-Traditional Christmas Verses

I receive a daily reflection in my email written by Dr. Mark D. Roberts from the Fuller Theological Seminary’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership.  He started this week with some thoughts on a passage in Philippians chapter 2 that many would be familiar with, but might not associate with Christmas.  A few days later, he brought up a passage from Hebrews 2 that also relates well to Jesus’ incarnation.

I would like to post my own brief reflections on these two passages and one more that will augment the traditional verses in Matt. 1:18 – 2:12 and Luke 2:1-20 to expand our understanding of the Christmas story, that God made His dwelling among us in His Son, Jesus the Messiah.

1. John 1:1-3, 14.

This is such a deep passage, and a bit daunting for me to try to do it justice. These first three verses point to the eternal existence of God the Son. Jesus, not yet in a physical form, was right there at creation with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. (See Gen. 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness'”.  See also Col. 1:16, “For by him all things were created”.) Jesus was not only with God, but was Himself divine. He was equal in essence or nature with God, and was directly involved in creation. This is indeed a mystery, but it provides us some theological background to the Christmas story and supports our foundational orthodox belief as Christians that Jesus is fully divine. Verse 14 brings us to Nazareth at the Immaculate Conception, where Jesus took on flesh in Mary’s womb. This is echoed in the line from the Christmas carol, O, Come All Ye Faithful: “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.”  John states that the Word of God now resided here.  John supports what Matthew told us in Matt. 1:22-23, declaring that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 regarding a virgin who would give birth to a son who would be called “Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us.'” This is indeed good news!

2. Phil. 2:6-11.

This is another deep passage that I want to highlight briefly. Paul is exhorting the church in Philippi to imitate the humility of Christ. He seems be quoting a poem here, as indicated by the style in which it appears in the New International Version. This may have been a creed of sorts from the first century. It ties in well with our passage in John, pointing out that Jesus was equal in nature with God the Father. In taking on flesh, he did NOT lay aside His deity, but took on the limitations of humanity. In this sacrificial act, which foreshadows His ultimate sacrifice at the cross, Jesus showed His total dependence on God the Father and His total selflessness towards us. He knowingly left the glory and perfection of heaven to become a weak and lowly fetus, baby, child, teenager, young adult, and servant here on this dusty planet for our salvation. This passage provides some additional insight on what took place prior to Christmas day, showing God’s great love for you and for me.

3. Heb. 2:14-18.

The writer of Hebrews contrasts how Jesus is far superior to the Old Testament. He shows that Jesus not only fulfills the Old Testament prophecies, but is the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament pointed to. The main point in these verses is that Jesus was able to provide sufficient atonement for our sins by being just like us. He was fully human, only sinless; a spotless Lamb. It says of Jesus that “he had to be made like his brothers in every way”. His birth that we celebrate on Christmas Day had one main purpose – He came to die for us. This is a sobering thought, but is one that can truly bring hope and joy to the world. “The Lord is come; let earth receive her king!”

I trust that this meditation will help you to keep Christ in Christmas this year.