There is a major problem with this world. It’s called “people”.
Sometimes we have idealised pictures in our minds of the good that humans may be capable of being and doing. However the Charles Schulz’ Peanuts cartoon expressed a significant truth. The cartoon had Linus observing this of humans, “I love mankind! It’s people I can’t stand!” Many other people have expressed a similar truth about humans. Great as a concept. Difficult in practice.
It reminds me of a conversation I had with a cleaner who was cleaning our home in Sydney. It had been raining a great deal in recent days and I asked how she was managing the wet weather. I was a little surprised but amused by her answer, “I don’t have any problem with the concept of rain. It’s the practicalities I have difficulties with!” It was a great response and I have used it in teaching especially on the need for people to forgive others. Forgiveness is a great concept but we all have difficulties with forgiving in practice. Probably because humans can be so …. human! Them! And Us!
There is a reason why people are difficult. Well, actually there are many reasons. Paul reminds us of many of those reasons in Ephesians 2. What he wrote of humans back then, still applies to all humans today. It is genetic in origin [as well as often pathetic in practice.]
A). THE WORLD’S PROBLEM. PROBLEM PEOPLE
It seems that the thinkers in the early days of the Church of England knew about humans when they placed these words in the Baptism service “For Those Of Riper Years.”
Question:- Dost thou renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh; so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them? Answer:- I renounce them all.
They recognised that the 3 enemies of the human race are the “world”, the “flesh” and the “devil”. All of them need to be renounced in order to live a faithful life while trusting in Christ.
No doubt those early thinkers drew upon these following concepts in the writings of St Paul as they drew up the Baptismal services. We look especially at Ephesians 2.
1). The Enemy Around Humans. [The World]. Humans are spiritually dead in sin. Eph 2:1 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world … ” The “world” [kosmos, κόσμοs] can mean all the world and all its peoples. It can also mean the world in opposition to God and to His purposes for the world. That is seen in John 1:10 where Jesus is seen as the Creator of the world but was rejected by the people of the world when He came into the world in His incarnation. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.”
The “course” [aiōn, αἰών meaning the age or the ways] of the world can mean the world’s systems of belief and behaviour. Humans were doing their own thing rather than God’s. They had been “following the crowd” as it were! Conforming to the spirit of the age! Doin’ what comes naturally! They still do today!
It is certainly true that the world [meaning the people and their ideas] can impact us or influence us greatly. That was why St Paul suggested a solution in Romans 12. Conformity to the world could be overcome by being transformed by the renewing of our minds, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Rom 12:2.
2). The Enemy Against Humans. [Satan, the Devil.] “… following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—”. The enemy against humans revealed himself in the Garden of Eden as being anti-God, a tempter, a deceiver and a liar.
He is a “prince” [archōn, ἄρχων = first in rank or power] in being the chief among evil spirits.
He has “power “[authority, influence, exousía, ἐξουσία] but he stole it from humans.
Humans were characterised by disobedience because they were under the power of evil spirits “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Humans were disobeying but they were under the influence of evil. They were conforming to evil presence and influence.
There are many in our world today who suggest that evil is rampant throughout the world. What was once called “evil” is being called “good” and what was once called “good” is being called “evil”. It is a time when Christian believers are being unjustly persecuted throughout the world and very few people seem to care or even see the injustice being done.
3). The Enemy Within Humans. [The flesh, the “old man,” fallen human nature.]
Eph 2:3 “among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind … .” Paul is including himself and his readers among the problem people of the world. It has been a universal problem everywhere and throughout the ages.
The “flesh” [sarx, σάρξ] can have various meanings. It can mean all the people of the world, our skin which covers our bones etc, and our fallen human nature opposed to the Holy Spirit and to God.
Paul described that fallen human nature and how it behaves in Gal 5:19 “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” That covers a lot of negative human experience in the areas of sex, religion, social behaviour and self-control. That is, inappropriate sex, inappropriate religious expression, inappropriate social behaviour and inappropriate personal behaviour.
Paul did give an answer here as well. If people could learn to walk by the Spirit they would not engage in inappropriate behaviour, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Galatians 5:16-17. But if they failed to be born of the Spirit and to be empowered by the Spirit then they were accountable to God for their failure to do so.
The Outcome of the Problem of Problem People. “and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
These are challenging words indeed. Many folk find it easier to ignore them than to take them seriously. What do they actually mean?
“By nature children of wrath.” Well, that is not a very popular concept in the eyes of many people!
It means that we were born with a nature that has a bias towards evil. The Church of England and Anglican churches loyal to the Bible and to the Book of Common Prayer have always taught that truth. [NOTE 1.]
If we continue to live under the dictates of our fallen human nature then we are accountable to God who has made it possible for humans to live under His influence [if they were to repent of sin and believe in Him.]
- “Wrath?” [The word is orgḗ, ὀργή meaning God’s settled disposition towards sin, rather than an out of control human outburst.] Many will say, “Surely you can’t associate wrath with a God of love!” Of course not! Unless of course He has described Himself in that way! And He has, in His word! The same word is used in the Greek Septuagint [LXX] version and underlined in these verses.
- Exodus 4:14, “Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses… .”
- In Moses’ Song, Moses warns the people, “You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters.” Deut 32:18-19.
- The leaders of Israel vowed to fufil their promise before the Lord to avert His wrath, ” This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that God’s wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them.” Joshua 9:20.
- Exodus 32:11, ‘But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?”’
- Deut 29:20, “The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.”
- Isaiah 10:25, “For in a very little while my fury [orgḗ, ὀργή] will come to an end, and my anger [thumos, θυμός] will be directed to their destruction.”
There are other verses in the New Testament that refer to the wrath of God. However I found a good summary of the use of “wrath” in the New Testament in a commentary on Romans 1:18 by John MacArthur. “God has various kinds of wrath: (1) eternal wrath, which is hell; (2) eschatological wrath, which is the final Day of the Lord; (3) cataclysmic wrath like the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; (4) consequential wrath, which is the principle of sowing and reaping; and (5) the wrath of abandonment, which is removing restraint and letting people go to their sins (for examples of this wrath, see Psa 81:11-12; Pro 1:23-31; see note on Hos 4:17). Here, it is that fifth form, God’s abandoning the wicked continually through history to pursue their sin and its consequences (Rom 1:24-32).” [NOTE 2]
So the “wrath of God” is a reality whether people believe it or not. How unwise it would be to trifle with verses such as the following,
- Rom 1:18 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth”.
- Rom 2:5 “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed”.
- Rom 2:8 “but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”
It would be especially unwise to ignore the concept of the wrath of God considering that He has gone to great lengths to make it possible for people to avert His wrath. Joh 3:36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Every human who believes in Jesus and obeys Him, will miss out on the wrath of God that remains on those who don’t. [See also Rom 5:9, 13:5, Eph 5:6, Col 3:6, 1 Thess 1:10, 5:9, Heb 4:3].
“like the rest of mankind.” The “Fall of Man” in Genesis 3 affected every human ever born into this world. Paul described this fact in Romans 5, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” Rom 5:12-14.
Think of the person you dislike the most in this world. Unless they repent and turn to Christ, the wrath of God remains on them. Think of the person you most admire and love the most in the world. Unless they repent and turn to Christ they too remain under the wrath of God until they do. However whenever anyone from any background rich or poor, good or bad, turns in repentance and faith to Christ, they belong to Him from that moment. They become part of His family. They are declared righteous in the sight of a Holy God. So sad about all the others who will not repent and turn to Christ. They have turned their backs on the love of God and on the God of love. They have spurned the precious blood of Jesus that was shed to enable them to be forgiven. They have rejected the grace and mercy of God. Those who have rejected Him, will in turn be rejected by Him! So unnecessary when God Himself made it possible for everyone to be forgiven and to have a vital loving relationship with Him.
B). GOD’S REMEDY FOR THE PROBLEM OF PROBLEM PEOPLE
The wrath of God is a reality! But praise God, so is His love! In His love for humans He has done for them what they could never do for themselves. In Eph 2:4-10 we read truths about His nature and about what He had done for humans in His love. He is described as being “rich in mercy”, loving us with a “great love”, “making us alive together in Christ”, saving us by “His grace”, believers are “raised” and “seated “with Christ in the heavenlies, having “immeasurable riches of grace in kindness” and re-creating humans for the good works He has planned for them to do.
1). God is able to make humans spiritually alive by His mercy, love and grace. He makes the spiritually dead become spiritually alive. Eph 2:4 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—”.
“But God”” What a wonderful phrase. It marks the distinction between what is seen to be reality at the present and what could become reality by the grace and power of God. The reality at present is that humans by nature are spiritually dead. BUT God did something about it in Christ. He did it because He is rich in mercy. He did it because He has great love which was manifest in His making it possible for humans to become alive in Him. He did it to save humans by His grace.
Made alive “together with Christ”. It is the result of our faith union with Christ. What happened to Him is what happened to us as we are joined to Him in the sight of God. We were “buried with” Him in baptism, Rom 6:4, Col 2:12. We were raised with Him, Eph 2:6 and Col 2:12. We were seated with Him in the heavenlies, Eph 2:6.
2). God is able to raise humans up above the powers of the air that were against them. Eph 2:6 “and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Seated with Christ in the heavenlies by His grace. Seated there in the place of acceptance. Seated there in the place of honour. Seated there in the place of authority. Why” because God accepts all those who accept His Son. God honours those who honour His Son. God delegates authority to those who place themselves under the authority of the Son.
Those who were once living under the control of Satan and his cohorts [ “… following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—” Eph 2:2.] now have authority over him and over them.
3). God is able to work His work within humans by His grace and power. Humans may have been under the influence of the evil powers at work in them in their disobedience, but no longer when they repent and believe in Christ. Their faith in Christ opens them to the grace of salvation. They didn’t have to work for their salvation. It was a gift to them in Christ, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Eph 2:8.
The great blessing for those in Christ is that God helps them to know what He wants them to do. Then He gives them the help they need to do it. As Paul put it in Eph 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” [“Workmanship” translates the Greek word poíēma, ποίημα which has been translated in simple terms as “product” and in more exotic terms as “masterpiece”.]
A caution! Before we go racing off to a mirror to admire this “masterpiece’ for the next day or so, we need to humble ourselves by realising that this masterpiece is not meant to be admired assiduously like a Rembrandt on the wall. Rather, as Paul reminds us, we are a product produced for a purpose. This “product” has been created by God to do something. That is, to do the good works that God has already planned for us to do. We are to “walk” in them, meaning that they should become the central part of our existence. What a privilege to be doing the works of God. What a responsibility!
It is a similar concept to that in Philippians 2 where Paul writes that we are to “work out” our salvation with fear and trembling knowing a certain fact. That is, that God is already at work in us by His Spirit to give us the willingness and the ability to do His will. We see the connection in the original language in Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out [katergázomai, κατεργάζομαι = accomplish, in the sense of working out the implications of our gift of salvation,. Certainly not working for our salvation] your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works [energéō, ἐνεργέω] in you, both to will [thélō, θέλω] and to work [energéō, ἐνεργέω] for his good pleasure.” In simple terms, we are to work out in practice what God is inwardly working in us while giving us the willingness and ability to do so. [Clever engineers will have already noted that some of these Greek word are based on “erg” which is a unit of work or energy. For example, katergázomai, energeo.]
SUMMING UP:- [“Houston, we have a problem!” With the world! But in Christ it is fixable!
The problem of problem people can only be fixed by having them respond to the gospel of Christ. He is the only One who can bring them alive spiritually so that they can open up to His amazing grace. Only then can they know and do the will of God for them. Only then can they work out in practice what He is inwardly working within them.
While people ignore the gospel message [or more accurately ignore the Christ of the gospel message] they will remain a problem people.
What a glorious world it would be if everyone in it opened their lives to the living Christ and allowed Him to make them what He wanted them to be and allowed Him to motivate and empower them to do the things He wanted them to do! The problem of problem people is fixable but only as problem people submit to Christ as Saviour and Lord!
A SUGGESTED PRAYER. (In words similar to the prayer I prayed just before midnight on New Year’s Eve 1958 which led to a radical transformation in my life.) The A,B,C and D of becoming a Christian as suggested by the late Rev John Stott a former Chaplain to the Queen and former Rector of All Souls Langham Place, London.)
“Almighty God, I Admit that I am a sinner in your sight and I repent of all my sins. I Believe Jesus died on the cross for sinners and that He died for me and for my sin.
I Consider the cost of becoming a Christian knowing that my forgiveness and salvation is free, but because He died for me I know I should now live for Him.
I want to Do something about it, so I now invite You Jesus into my life to be my Saviour from sin and to be the Lord and Master of every part of my life. Please do in me and through me what You wish, for the rest of my life, that I might live for Your glory. AMEN.”
[NOTE 1.) From Article 9 of the 39 Articles of Religion. “Original Sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.”
[NOTE 2.) From his treatment of ‘wrath” in Romans 1:18 in his “MacArthur Bible Commentary”.
Blog No.255. Posted on jimholbeck.blog on Tuesday 9th January 2018.