This sermon is from Sunday, September 12, 2010.
[Pastor begins by saying he has always wanted to do an in-depth study of the Book of Ephesians.] I felt just last month that God gave me the green light, that now is the time to do so. I love the book of Ephesians. [First] We know more about the church of Ephesus. Of all of the New Testament churches scattered over the Greek and Roman Empire at the time, we know more about Ephesus than any other church. It’s mentioned in five books of the New Testament. It’s the only church. We know more about Ephesus than we do about the church in Jerusalem actually, so there is a lot of material to draw from, to enhance, as we look at the book of Ephesians itself.
Secondly, it is a mature church. We see that in Revelation, chapter 2, that much like State College Assembly and many other congregations have many mature believers, we can relate to them.
Thirdly, just about everything is in this book. I mean, we are going to cover–marriage is here, relationships of parents and children, anger management, being drunk in the Spirit, being drunk is here, apostles and prophets today is in Ephesians, spiritual warfare, unity in the body of Christ. I mean, it covers just about everything, so we are going to touch on many, many different topics as we go through this book.
Ephesus, also, is fascinating to me. It is a place where—can we put this graphic up, Michelle? This is the title of the series: Following Jesus in a Spiritually Hostile World. Ephesus was the center of goddess worship for the Greek and Roman Empire. There were a lot of gods and goddesses but Ephesus was the center, particularly Diana or Artemis, depending on the Greek or the Roman view of her, so we will touch on this. I’m also, through this series, going to interweave what, to me, is my most fascinating area of study apart from the Bible itself, and that is the spiritual history of the United States, and it’s going to be mostly positive, so don’t worry. There is a lot of stuff and it will interweave with the book of Ephesus; particularly when we get to the latter part when we deal with spiritual warfare, it will become very, very relevant to us. So I am excited about this series and I hope that you enjoy it. Every week will be different and it will be substantive; it will speak into your life in a very practical way.
Today’s message comes from the first chapter and the title is: R U A Chosen One? Did God choose you or did you choose God, or how does that work? R U A Chosen One? Turn with me to Ephesians 1, and let’s look together at God’s Word. Would you stand with me as we give honor to His Word? We are going to read verses 1-8, and then verses 11 and 12. We’ll come back to 9 and 10 next week. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will—to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. Now down to verse 11: In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His Will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory.
[Praying] Father, we thank You for Your word today. Lord, I pray that You will show us today, how much You love us and You thought about us before we were born. You thought about us before the creation of the world. Lord, I pray You will anoint Your servant to speak what You would have me to say, but I pray more than that, Holy Spirit, You will customize this message to every single individual today and, Lord, that You would do Your divine work that only You can do. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, speak to my heart, change my life, in Jesus’ name. Amen. You may be seated.
One of the greatest revivals on the planet, since the early church, is going on right now around the world. But in American history, one of the greatest revivals ever, since the early church, was the Second Great Awakening. It started, most scholars say, in 1801, near Lexington, Kentucky which was then the frontier for those who were European immigrants to North America as they were moving West; there were some west of them but that was kind of near the frontier. And there was an amazing church service held there, and there were Methodists and there were Baptists and there were some Presbyterians, and God came and just shook the place, and the Second Great Awakening got started. It reached its peak in the 20’s, 1820’s. It then died down but we see in the 50’s kind of a resurgence right before the Civil War in the cities, the businessmen revival led by Jeremiah Lanphier [A merchant who became a lay missionary in New York City began to hold weekly prayer meetings in 1857 in the Old Dutch North Church]. The Second Great Awakening, more than anything else, tended to Christianize America. So many people got saved throughout the nation, and it wasn’t just in the frontier. In New York state, there was a credible revival there and through much of the east, people were getting saved.
The two denominations that were most effective, particularly in the frontier during the Second Great Awakening, were the Methodists and the Baptists. And that’s why their numbers are so large today in America, compared to many other denominations. The Methodists and the Baptists are the two largest Protestant denominations in America because they were effective way back then, in the 1800’s. Well, why were they effective? They were effective because, for one reason, they encouraged everybody to share the Gospel. In fact–both the Methodists and the Baptists–you didn’t have to have a whole lot of qualifications to be a pastor. If you had a Bible and you wanted to preach and you believed in Jesus, someone would say, “God bless you, go ahead. Just start a church.” So there wasn’t a whole lot of credentialing or whatever. They just wanted to share the Gospel on the frontier. Most of the people on the frontier didn’t know the Lord. These were not born-again Christians who left the East Coast and moved west. Most of them were really rugged in every way. I mean, it was the Wild West, and they needed Jesus.
There is an important distinction between the Methodists and the Baptists and the Presbyterians. I don’t normally name other denominations hardly ever, because I am big on unity in the body of Christ, but to illustrate what we are talking today about–being chosen by God–I need to name particular denominations. Here’s a picture. Picture those who are in Christ as part of a household of faith, so picture a house, okay? The Methodists and the Baptists both would say there is a front door to that house and you have a choice whether you want to go into that house or not. So I know Revelation 3:20 is kind of the opposite view [Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.], but just work with me here. So this house has a front door and you may be beckoned in, someone’s inviting you in, but it’s your decision whether you go through that door or not—Jesus is the door, He said–into that household of faith. Now the Methodists said there is also a back door to that house. If, after you are there for a while, you choose to leave, there is a back door and you could walk out of the household of faith, in essence, lose your salvation, okay?
The Baptists said there is no back door. Once you’re in, you’re in. It’s not the Roach Motel [he chuckles, referring to an old television commercial for pest control traps], but once you’re in, you’re in, and no matter what you do, you cannot lose your salvation. So the Baptists said there is a front door but no back door. The Methodists said there is a front door and a back door. You with me so far? Okay.
So how are they different from the Presbyterians? The Presbyterians were not that effective on the frontier or generally in missions. One exception is South Korea, which is a huge success story for the Presbyterians.But otherwise, they say, basically–and I went to three different Presbyterian seminaries so I know Calvinism and Presbyterianism pretty well. They say there are no doors, front or back, and there is, basically, a big suction hose that goes from the top of the house and every once in a while, this vacuum sucks you in. When God decides—thoump– you’re in, like a bug. You have no choice in the matter about coming in or going out. When the suction hose hits you, you’re in. You with me? So that is basic Calvinist Christian theology.
Now, these are all believers, you with me? I’m not saying if you go to one of those churches, you are automatically a Christian. I’m not saying if you go to State College Assembly of God you are automatically a Christian, amen? You’ve got to know the Lord. But I’m saying those who know the Lord, and believers can disagree on this, we’re still brothers and sisters in Christ. And you can be wrong about a lot of things and still get in to Heaven. I mean, you can be a Cleveland Browns fan and still go to Heaven. [Congregation laughs, because many are Pittsburgh Steeler fans.] Ohio State, I’m not so sure. [Remember, he is preaching in the hometown of Penn State University, and this gets a huge response.] Not so much. [serious now] You can be wrong about a lot of things and still go to Heaven, but you can’t be wrong about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. So they all love Jesus but they have these different views.
A very key issue is who chooses whom: does God choose us or do we choose God? Now, if you hold to the theology of the suction hose, you are not naturally motivated for missions, because if God has predetermined, before the creation of the universe, who is going to follow Him and you can’t stop yourself, I mean, if you get sucked in, what’s the use of giving to missions or being a missionary if they are elect and God is going to make sure that it happens–no one can stop it, no one can do anything about it, it’s totally determined, totally, in every way–then why give a whole lot of effort to missions? But if you believe that people have a choice of whether to receive Christ or not, and you love people, you are very motivated. So the Methodists and the Baptists were very motivated in the 1800’s to share Jesus with others, the Presbyterians not so much.
In fact, when you think about it–and Pennsylvania is the most Presbyterian state in the United States, by the way, and it’s the most Mennonite state in the United States in some ways, Amish state and so forth. But a lot of the people that were in these denominations—Episcopal, Presbyterian and so forth–they were kind of in the elite of society on the East Coast. And when people moved west, when the European settlers moved west– most of those who went west were not at the core of high society, you with me? They tended to be the misfits. “Honey, we’re just not fitting in, so let’s get out of here. Let’s go.” So in the churches there would be a tendency to say, “Hey, they’re not elect anyhow. They didn’t fit in here. Why should we chase them down in Kentucky and try to bring them to Jesus? They were here and they weren’t part of our church and they weren’t following God so. . .” The Methodists and the Baptists didn’t think that way. They thought, “Whosoever will may come. Let’s go into the highways and byways and compel them to come in.”
We [Assembly of God] are more part of that heritage than the Calvinist heritage and that’s one of the reasons we are so motivated for missions. We believe that all need to hear the Gospel and all need to have an opportunity to say yes, or no, to Jesus. And we believe that’s what He told us to do, to go into all the world and preach the Gospel [Matthew 28:19]. We believe that people’s eternal destinies are at stake. And we believe that yes, God chooses, but we also have a responsibility to respond. So I don’t think it’s “either–or” or that God doesn’t choose us, we choose God. No, He initiates it and then we respond. So I believe we can say no. And if you think about, Jesus told the disciples, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you.” And Calvinists will quote that verse [John15:15]. But think about the rich young ruler [Mark 10:17-22]. Jesus said, “Sell everything you have, give to the poor and what–come, follow me.” And what did he do? He said no. He walked away sorrowfully; he didn’t receive.
Life would be so much easier if you could choose people and they had no say in it. I remember when I was a teenage guy. It would have been wonderful if I could just choose a girl and she had no say in it [congregation laughs]. I was part of Allie’s wedding yesterday. No, she has to say yes. And that’s the way it is with the Heavenly Bridegroom who comes to us in love. For God so loved the world that he sent His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. [He quotes John 3:16, but more like the King James version.] And when He comes to us, you can say yes, or you can say no. I believe it’s “both–and”.
Now we are learning in science—the science of years ago tended to say that everything in the universe is determined, the movement of every atom, electron, everything. If you had enough knowledge, you could predict everything in the future because everything is absolutely determined, like a billiard ball. If it hits at a certain angle, it is going to go at a certain angle. Every movement, if you had a computer big enough to plug all the data in, you would know exactly what’s going to happen a hundred years from now. It’s all predetermined. Well, the science more recently tells us that, in quantum mechanics, that the observer of an act actually changes what happens. And this is a lot like what the Bible tells us. And that is that we are active participants in God’s redemptive history, that what we do actually has an effect. If it didn’t, why should we pray? Think about it. If God has absolutely determined everything and there is nothing you can do to change it one way or another, why would the apostle Paul tell others to pray for him? What is prayer even about, if everything is totally determined?
By the way, two weeks ago when I had a bad [cold]—and so many of you have asked me, I’m doing much better with the bronchitis, I’m almost over it, praise the Lord—but Sunday morning two weeks ago, I was so sick, and I didn’t think I’d be able to get here. And I said–and I don’t think I’ve ever said this before–I have a feeling God woke somebody up to pray for me, and a person in this congregation of unimpeachable character who would never lie about anything, came to me and said the Lord woke them up at 4 in the morning and they were praying for me. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that how God loves us? But, what is that about? Think about it! Why did God have to wake somebody up to pray for me? He could have just touched me. You with me? You ever wonder—what? God wants us to be active participants in what He is doing. He includes us. Yes, He is over all; yes, He is sovereign, but He includes us in what He is doing here on earth.
Some of you are more Calvinist than I am–God bless you—and I may not change everybody’s opinion today, but when I was in school, the Calvinism that has the vacuum out of the house, that picks up the bugs and draws them in, is summed up in five things. I don’t think I’ve ever taught on this on a Sunday morning so I’m going to share with you today. It comes down to the letters T-U-L-I-P, the five points of Calvinism. Now I’m going to go through this very briefly, and you get extra credit for being here today. This is kind of like a freshman Bible college course in some ways.
T is total depravity, that there is nothing good about us at all. We have fallen, and we can’t get up. There is nothing good in us at all. Now the irony is in the religious right in America today that those who are driving the engine of that movement tend to be Calvinist. For the life of me, I can’t understand why, on the one hand, they believe that those who don’t know the Lord have zero good in them and they can’t respond to anything from God–they can’t respond to truth–and then politically they are wondering why people can’t understand their logic. It doesn’t make sense. We’ll get into that a little bit more next Sunday. I am going to talk about Christian dominionism. Are we called to have dominion here on earth? It’s a big movement in America. So, total depravity.
U is unconditional election, and that’s kind of the focus today. I have a blue book over here that I’d like to recommend if you want to study more than what I am sharing today—a lot of you, what I share is enough, right? More than enough. [He laughs] If you want to study more, this book is out of print but [on] Amazon or eBay you can get used copies. It is called Elect in the Son [by Robert Shank, published in 1989] and that is a study of the doctrine of election. You have a choice of whether you respond to God or not. So U is unconditional election.
Number three, limited atonement. Calvinists believe that Jesus only died for saved people, not for everybody, only for the Elect. Number four is irresistible grace, back to that hose. If God chooses you, you can’t say no. Number five is perseverance of the saints. There is no back door, you can’t get out no matter what you do. You are in.
Well, there are some Bible verses that tend to contradict and I know there are Bible verses that support them. But total depravity: Acts 17:30, In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. He commands all people everywhere to repent. How can you repent if there is nothing in you that can respond to God? You with me? It makes no sense to call people to repentance who can’t repent. You know, it’s like asking a caterpillar to jump 20 feet in the air and yell at them for not jumping. They can’t do it. They can’t do it.
Unconditional election: John 1:12 says, Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God. There’s an act on our part, not that we can regenerate ourselves—the Holy Spirit has to come and do that—but we have to receive Him and believe on Him. That’s something we do.
Number three, limited atonement. Well, I John 2:2 says, He—Christ—is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. So I believe that the Bible clearly says that Jesus died for everybody. Now only some will receive Him but He died for everybody.
Number four, irresistible grace: Acts 7:51 says, You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! This is Stephen when he’s preaching. You resist the Holy Spirit. Well, apparently, God’s grace can be resisted, and yet some say irresistible grace. Some of you know people that God has a call on their life and they are fighting it tooth and nail. Do you know somebody like that? Yeah, grace can be resisted.
And number five, perseverance of the saints. Now I don’t believe it’s easy to walk away from God but I believe it’s possible. II Peter 2:20-22 says, If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” There it says, if you come to know the Lord and walk away from Him, your judgment is worse than if you never knew Him. So are there gradations of judgment in eternity? I believe that there are. God determines that, and we leave that in His hands.
So I believe, yes, God chooses us. He chooses us and He foreknew, He knew you before you were born and He chose you, and I’m so glad that the vast majority of you already have said yes to the Lord. There was a moment where you repented of your sins and maybe you walked to an altar like this and you knelt there, and you allowed Christ to sit on the throne of your heart. And I am so glad that you did. You can’t earn your salvation; there’s nothing we can do to earn it. It is a gift of God, but it’s a gift that you can receive or reject. And when you receive Jesus, He makes all the difference, all the difference in the world.
In Romans 8:29, it is the other passage in the New Testament that talks about being predestined. In Ephesians 1 it says we are predestined to be holy and blameless in His sight. In Romans 8, it says basically the same thing: For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image [NIV actually says likeness] of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Conformed to the image of His Son—that is your destiny. We talked about that two weeks ago. Our destiny is to become like Jesus, to become like Jesus. Now we’re all coming from different places. We have different issues. Your issues may be different than my issues. But don’t cop out and just say, “Well, I’m not Jesus.” Because that is what you have been predestined for. That was God’s plan from the very beginning, that you would be part of the body of Christ. We would help each other, and sometimes rub each others’ rough edges off, and we would help each other become more like Jesus.
I want to say something about what’s been in the news this past week with the threat and then, apparently a few people did it in some places, the burning of the Islamic Koran. Let me first say that I am no friend of any false religion, any at all. I believe Jesus is the only way, period. Period. There is no quibbling about that–Jesus is the way–and every other faith is, by definition, a false faith. Two plus two equals four. And someone who says five or seven or three or nine, they may be totally sincere, but it’s wrong. And I am totally against the intermixing of faith traditions. We have a heritage of that in America, including Islam. And if you think Islam has not been mixed historically in America, I have two words for you: Jaffa Mosque. [This mosque is a popular performance venue in nearby Altoona, PA.] This is nothing new, nothing new at all. So I am not a friend of any religion. I am all about relationship with Jesus.
I do think, though, it sometimes helps to have a little understanding of where people are coming from. And I really wrestled with whether to say anything about this or not; it’s a very hot button issue. Last night I talked to two experts in Islam, one raised a Christian and one raised a Muslim. The one raised a Muslim, most of you already know–Christopher Alam. [Christopher Alam has preached several times at State College Assembly of God. More information about his ministry, called Dynamis World Ministries, can be found at http://pentecostalfire.com] He is in Africa, conducting an outreach there and he happened to be up. It was 12:30 at night there, and I sent him a message. I said, “Christopher, are you available for me to ask you some questions?” and he called me on Skype right away. They had a great service, many miracles, and he was, you know, so excited he couldn’t get to sleep. He contacted me, and he is a direct descendant of Mohammed, raised a Muslim in Pakistan; he knows what he is talking about, okay? So I wanted to check with him about all this, and we talked about holy books. Now we hold our Bible to be very sacred, but Muslims hold the Koran to be even more sacred than we hold the Bible. In fact, some of them hold the Bible to be more sacred, even though it’s not their sacred text, than some Christians do. Christopher told me about, some years ago, a Christian evangelist went to Africa and he was preaching to a mix of people, including some Muslims, about Jesus. And he wanted to emphasize that he standing on the Word, and he took his Bible, put it on the ground and he stood on the Bible and said, “I’m standing on the Word of God.” And there was a band of young Muslim men who wanted to beat him up for desecrating the Bible, and it wasn’t even their text. The Koran, they believe to be–other than the Kaaba in Mecca–the most sacred thing in the universe, and they hold it so valuable.
And I want to compare it to how we hold human life to be sacred. We in the Christian tradition believe that we are made in the image of God, amen? Everybody on the planet, made in the image of God, no matter what race or ethnic group or if they have physical challenges, it doesn’t matter. We are all made in God’s image. Now Hindus tend to have a regard, a sacredness, of all life; in fact, cows and rats and so forth are put up close to the level of human beings, so we have differences there because we have a different view of human beings than others. But Muslims do not have the same exact view of human life that we do in the Christian tradition. Human life is important but it is not as sacred as the Koran. So I asked Christopher this, I posed it this way. I said, “If a devout Christian were captured, put in a booth and told the only way you can be released to go back to your home and family is to push one of these two buttons. You push one button and in this room there is a human being that will be killed. You push that button and they will die. You push this button and the Bible will be ignited and burned.” 99.9% of Christians in the world would push the button to burn the Bible, right, because we will say, I’ll get another one. Or in today’s technology it would be like deleting your Bible software off your iPhone. You say, “Well, I’ll put it back on.” Right? We would not want to kill the person. We would say we’ll get another Bible. But you put a lot of devout Muslims in that booth–push a button, kill a person or push a button, burn the Koran, they’ll push the button to kill the person because the Koran is more sacred.
Well, we’ve had all this discussion in our country this past week and I think some people don’t understand, they don’t understand the culture. Let me read a Bible verse; you can take away this. Acts, chapter 19, turn to Acts 19. You say, “What does the Bible say about burning the Koran?” Well, the Koran didn’t exist in Bible times. It was 600 years after the Bible was written but look here, starting with verse 35, Acts 19:35: The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: Men of—what city? Anybody. Ephesus, isn’t that interesting? Men of Ephesus, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash. You have brought these men—this is Paul and his companions and they wanted to kill them; there was a riot going on and they [the crowd] thought they [Paul and friends] had insulted Diana. You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. How ‘bout that? I could tell you, there’s part of me, if I had been Paul and went to Ephesus and saw the goddess worship there, it would have been very tempting to stand up and blaspheme the goddess, but they didn’t. What did they do? They acted like Jesus and here is the takeaway. Do we have to understand all the cultures of the earth to be effective for Christ? No. All you gotta do is act like Jesus. That’s all you gotta do. [ask yourself] “Would Jesus do this? Would Jesus say this? Would Jesus provoke”–He provoked, but—“would He provoke this way?” Once you answer that, you have your answer. You don’t have to be a scholar of everything out there. You just need to be conformed, Romans 8, to the image of the Son of God. That’s what we’re predestined for. That is His goal, that’s my goal, that should be all of our goals, to be like Jesus.
And guess what? We serve a winner and not a loser, and when we do things other ways, we insult Jesus. We just don’t insult other religions; we insult Jesus, because if we have to do things that Jesus wouldn’t have done, then we are saying, “Jesus, you’re a loser. We have to do THIS, this way.” [Pastor’s voice is rising to a shout now.] No, He wasn’t a loser. He’s a winner! He won on the cross. He defeated death, Hell and the grave. He defeated the enemy. We are part of victory! We are part of the household of faith. We are part of the righteous ones. We are part of a Holy Nation! WE ARE IN HIM, HE IS IN US, AND WE ARE WINNERS IN JESUS. AMEN! WE CAN’T LOSE. IN CHRIST, WE CAN’T LOSE, no matter what happens in life, as long as we’re in Him. [His voice is softer now.] Are you in Him? Is He in you? Are you a part of the household of faith today? If you are not following Jesus in a hostile world, a spiritually hostile world, and the Holy Spirit speaks to you and whispers to you, “Come follow Jesus,” please don’t say no. I plead with you as the early church pled, please don’t say no. The God of the Universe taps you on the shoulder and says, “Come follow Me.” How smart is it to say no to God. Think about it, how smart is it to say no to the God of the universe when He speaks to your heart and says, “Follow me.” He is choosing you. You may not understand everything, and there will be moments when you say, “Lord, what is going on?” There will be those moments, but there is no better way to live than to follow Jesus.
Would you bow your heads with me please? Thank you, Lord, thank you Jesus. [The service ends with the singing of “Amazing Grace:, words by John Newton, 1779, set to a traditional USA melody.]