Converge Bible Studies is a series of topical Bible studies based on the Common English Bible. Each title in the series consists of four studies on a common topic or theme. Converge can be used by small groups, classes, or individuals. Primary Scripture passages are included for ease of study, as are questions designed to encourage both personal reflection and group conversation. The topics and Scriptures in Converge come together to transform readers’ relationships with others, themselves, and God.
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Converge Bible Studies Who You Are In Christ
By Shane Raynor
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
WHO YOU ARE IN THE HEAVENLY REALM
1 At one time, you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. 2 You used to act like most people in our world do. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God's will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. 3 At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.
4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God's grace! 6 And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. 7 God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.
8 You are saved by God's grace because of your faith. This salvation is God's gift. It's not something you possessed. 9 It's not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God's accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.
11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called "uncircumcised" by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God's promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.
17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God's people, and you belong to God's household. 20 As God's household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. 22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.
INSIGHT AND IDEAS
When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, it's a life-changing event. And I'm not talking just a one-time change but a continual change. Please don't misunderstand this point: The initial transformation that takes place in us is significant (although not always easily discernible), but it goes deeper than that. It seems that this God we're getting to know is both loving and disruptive, and it's practically impossible to experience God without being changed.
Any study of our identity as Christians should start with who we are in God's eyes, because how we relate to everyone and everything else is affected by the quality of our relationship with the Creator.
In Ephesians 2, Paul doesn't pull punches when he describes what our condition is before we know Christ: "At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God." Before we come to Christ, we may be physically alive; but Scripture indicates that because of our sins, we're spiritually dead to God.
At first glance, this seems kind of harsh, doesn't it? It reminds me of the episode of the popular TV show The Big Bang Theory in which Leonard decides to date a woman who has recently dumped his friend Howard. When Howard finds out, he gets upset and declares to Leonard, "You are dead to me!"
In a sitcom, this is funny. But if you've ever heard these words from a friend in real life, you know that it's anything but funny.
Howard decides that he isn't speaking to Leonard anymore; and the ever-analytical Sheldon (Leonard's roommate) explains it to Leonard this way: "Howard is employing a schoolyard paradigm in which you are, for all intents and purposes, deceased. He intends to act on this by not speaking to you, feigning an inability to hear you when you speak, and otherwise refusing to acknowledge your existence."
As the show progresses, Leonard and Howard eventually reconcile, but not before Leonard and the woman they're fighting over make things right by setting Howard up on a date with one of her friends. You see, in Sitcom Land, hardly anything goes wrong between friends that can't be fixed in 22 minutes. Real life offers no such guarantee.
However, unlike a relationship between flawed sitcom characters, if God tells us we're dead, we can rest assured that it's no schoolyard paradigm being employed; it's serious business.
Before we come to a place of faith, most of us realize that, somewhere along the way, something went wrong in our relationships with God and one another. The problem of sin, although not a comfortable topic for discussion for most of us, is a real one. And the Bible doesn't sugarcoat it: "You used to act like most people in our world do. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God's will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2).
No doubt, Scripture paints a pretty depressing picture about the hold sin has on us. The good news is that there is more to the story. Paul tells us that God "brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things we did wrong" (Ephesians 2:4).
Did you catch that? We're not dead anymore. Not only are we spiritually alive, we're alive to God. But what brings this on? How do we get from the point of doing whatever feels good and doing whatever we think we want to do to "being God's accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things"? Paul says that it's because of God's grace and mercy.
GRACE AND MERCY
The famous eighteenth-century founder of Methodism, John Wesley, called the work of God that happens in us before our conversion prevenient grace. With the exception of theological eggheads and church history nerds, most of us don't run around using the word prevenient these days; so I like to think of this concept as preemptive grace. God intervenes in our wayward lives and works in ways we probably don't even know about or understand, all to pull us out of sin and bring us into a right relationship together. We obviously have to respond to God with our own free will, but make no mistake, it's God who makes the first move.
The Bible says that before we believe in Christ, we have "no hope and no God" (Ephesians 2:12). Paul says in Colossians 1:21 that we are "alienated from God" and "enemies with him in our minds." These are tough words, but take note that we're the ones who perpetuate the enmity with God—not the other way around. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4-5 that "God is rich in mercy" and that God brings us to life "because of the great love that he has for us."
I grew up going to church, and I don't remember a time that I didn't believe in God and pray. But my faith really didn't become my own until I was 14. One summer day, I went with my neighbor's family to a Christian bookstore, where I bought a Christian comic book.
After reading it, the gospel made sense to me in a way that it never had before. I had heard the message of Christ probably hundreds of times, but it was like all of the pieces of the puzzle came together for me when I read this comic book. I received Christ that day for myself; but looking back, I can see many of the places God was working in my life before I finally understood what was happening. That's prevenient grace.
This is where it gets exciting. Because of Jesus, we go from being hostile toward God to being part of God's family. We're not merely in a truce with God, or even just at peace with God. We now "belong to God's household" (Ephesians 2:19). "Thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:13). We now have access to God, and access is a powerful thing.
I realized how powerful access can be a few years ago when our church's senior pastor received a phone call from one of his children while he was leading a Bible study. He excused himself and took the call, which was a little awkward because he was the one teaching the study. He later told us that he had a personal rule to always take calls from his family, no matter what. Even when he set his ringer to silent, his family's ringtones were set to override that so he'd get the calls.
Over the years, our pastor has stopped a few board meetings, classes—even counseling sessions—to take calls from his wife and children. I believe that he would go as far as stopping a Sunday sermon to take a family phone call. That's the power of access, and it's just a picture of the access we have with God when we're in Christ.
OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND OUR AUTHORITY OVER EVIL
You may have heard the saying, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Well in the battle between good and evil, consider this corollary: "The friend of my enemy is also my enemy." When we're in Christ, his biggest enemy becomes our biggest enemy. You probably already know who that enemy is.
"God's Son appeared for this purpose: to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8).
It's true that our relationship with God changes when we come to faith in Christ; but this also means that, by extension, our relationships with evil spiritual forces change too. In his classic Christian living handbook The Fight, psychiatrist John White writes, "You have also established a new relationship with the powers of darkness. Whatever you were before you became a Christian ... you are now the sworn foe of the legions of hell."
But this shouldn't keep us awake at nights, because Ephesians 2:6 reminds us that God has "raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus." The imagery of Jesus seated in the heavens is referring to his position of authority; so since we're seated with Christ, we also have an enormous amount of authority over the forces of evil.
Several years ago, some friends and I were on our way to visit another church's Saturday evening service; and we stopped at a Chinese restaurant for dinner. While we were eating, I noticed that the restaurant was freezing. I even began to shiver. No one else in our group seemed to be experiencing this, so I realized that I was probably dealing with some kind of illness.
By the time we arrived at the church, I was experiencing chills; and when I entered the building, it suddenly seemed as if all hell were breaking loose inside my body. I struggled for a few minutes and finally had to leave the service and go outside to warm up. (This was late September in Austin, Texas, so it was still really hot.) I was miserable and couldn't wait to get home so that I could go to bed. I knew that there was a probably a logical physical explanation for my flu-like symptoms, but I had a weird feeling that something spiritual was going on too.
I finally made it home and immediately crashed, but I was so miserable that I couldn't get to sleep right away. I felt a prompting to pray, so I did; and the more I prayed, the more I sensed an ominous cloud hanging over me. I prayed that way for what seemed like hours, falling in and out of sleep; but the whole time, I felt that cloud right over my head. It was like an evil force that seemed to be closing in on me. But as I prayed, it stayed back.
If this sounds crazy to you, imagine what it felt like to me. I wondered if perhaps I was delirious from a fever, but I was too weak to get out of bed to check my temperature. So I kept praying. Finally, at some point late in the night, I felt the cloud lift and was able to get some sleep. I don't know exactly what had happened, but it seemed supernatural somehow. I knew that it was all right to stop praying, at least for the night.
The next day, I felt a little better. I didn't have chills anymore, but I could hardly walk because of an odd pain in my left leg. Still, I went to church as usual then spent the rest of the day relaxing at home. But I didn't feel the need to pray like I had prayed the night before, because the tension I'd felt then wasn't there anymore. Somehow I was confident that everything was going to be OK.
Monday morning, I was scheduled to fly to Nashville on business; but I woke up with a rash that ran most of the length of my left leg. I dropped by my church to ask our parish nurse what the rash might be, and she was insistent that I skip the business trip and go to the doctor instead. After a prayer from my pastor, I took the nurse's advice and headed to the urgent care clinic.
It turns out that I had shingles, which I'm told is unusual for people in their mid-30s (my age at the time). Most people who get shingles are much older, they experience a lot of pain, and their symptoms usually last several weeks. I experienced hardly any pain, and my symptoms were virtually gone by the following weekend. Some people might credit my speedy recovery to a quick diagnosis and antiviral medicines. While those interventions no doubt played a role, I'm convinced that prayer was the biggest factor. Scripture says that Jesus gave his followers authority to heal every sickness (see Matthew 10:1 and Luke 10:9), and I believe that I experienced this authority first hand that weekend.
On a number of occasions before and since, I've had the opportunity to pray with this authority for myself and others; and I've watched seemingly impossible situations change course—in many cases overnight. I'm not suggesting that every difficult situation we face originates from spiritual forces of evil; but it's good to know that when we do have to confront evil, we have the authority to do it.
The enemy recognizes who we are in Christ, and God certainly knows who we are. Sometimes its our own understanding of our identity that falls short. We'll consider that in the next portion of our study.
1. How did our offenses against God make us like dead people (Ephesians 2:1)?
2. What is the "destructive spiritual power" in Ephesians 2:2? What does this spiritual power destroy?
3. Why is doing whatever feels good and whatever we think we want not a good thing (Ephesians 2:3)?
4. What does it mean to be saved by grace (Ephesians 2:5, 8)? What is prevenient grace?
5. What are the good things God created us to do (Ephesians 2:10)?
6. Why does Paul tell the Ephesians (in verse 12) that they had "no hope and no God" when they were without Christ?
7. Ephesians 2:13 says that those who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. In what ways were we far away from God? How does Christ bring us near?
8. How does Jesus Christ bring peace and break down barriers between people (Ephesians 2:14)? What are practical ways we can do this as members of the body of Christ?
9. What does it mean to have access to God (Ephesians 2:18)? What is significant about who is mentioned in this verse?
10. Why does God compare the people who make up a church to a building (Ephesians 2:21-22)?CHAPTER 2
UNDERSTANDING WHO YOU ARE
1 So what are we going to say? Should we continue sinning so grace will multiply? 2 Absolutely not! All of us died to sin. How can we still live in it? 3 Or don't you know that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore, we were buried together with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too can walk in newness of life. 5 If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his. 6 This is what we know: the person that we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin. That way we wouldn't be slaves to sin anymore, 7 because a person who has died has been freed from sin's power. 8 But if we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him. 10 He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life. 11 In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.
12 So then, don't let sin rule your body, so that you do what it wants. 13 Don't offer parts of your body to sin, to be used as weapons to do wrong. Instead, present yourselves to God as people who have been brought back to life from the dead, and offer all the parts of your body to God to be used as weapons to do right. 14 Sin will have no power over you, because you aren't under Law but under grace.
INSIGHT AND IDEAS
The news was buzzing recently about a rare 1913 Liberty Head nickel on its way to the auction block. Word in the coin collecting community is that this five-cent piece could sell for up to $5 million. But what's really fascinating is the story of the coin's history.
Only five 1913 Liberty Head nickels were ever made, because the famous Buffalo Head nickel was introduced that same year. A rogue mint worker named Samuel Brown allegedly altered a die to create the five nickels; and he kept the coins secret until 1920, when he sold them at a coin collectors convention. The nickels remained together for years before the set was broken up in 1942.
Excerpted from Converge Bible Studies Who You Are In Christ by Shane Raynor. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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