Previous article in this series: March 1, 2014, p. 249.
We last saw that the Reformed worldview is one that has us living in willing subjection to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He who has purchased us with His precious blood also owns us body and soul. There is not an aspect of our lives that falls outside the scope of His Lordship.
But it is His work of grace in our hearts that brings us into willing subjection to Him. The Lord of glory who owns us also lives in us! He rules over us—not by force, but by the impelling power of His love as His Holy Spirit sheds that love abroad in our hearts. Christ’s rule, therefore, is a rule of grace in us who are His.
That life of Christ in us brings a profound change. The power of the gospel in the hearts of God’s people brought such profound change that Paul wrote in II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
By “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (), the perspective of the children of God is changed in every respect. Their worldview is completely changed under the influence of the gospel of their salvation in Christ Jesus. Their understanding of God has changed. Their view of themselves has radically changed, as has their view of the world and their own relationship to the world. To use the language of , the Word of God will be seen prevailing over the thoughts that once had governed us and the behavior that characterized our lives apart from the gospel.
This is seen in several specific examples in the New Testament.
To confine ourselves to just three examples of this new worldview formed by the Spirit’s work in those who are united to Christ, we give our attention to the church at Ephesus, and the power of the gospel as it took root under the blessing of the Spirit of Christ through the preaching of the apostle Paul.
Two such examples are found in Acts 19.
Ephesus was a prominent city in the Roman Empire, the most important city in the province of Asia, and was located on the western shore of Asia Minor, what today is the country of Turkey.
Ephesus was a large commercial center for that entire region and, as becomes evident in Acts 19, a city well-known for its worship of the goddess Diana. Diana was her Roman name, known among the Greeks as the goddess Artemis. Her worship had gone on for centuries, and a spectacular temple had been built in Ephesus for the worship of Diana, a temple noted as one of the seven wonders of the world at that time.
If Islam is the dominant idolatry in that part of the world today, the worship of Diana was in the days of Paul. While the idolatry of Artemis or Diana was widespread throughout the Greek and then the Roman world, Ephesus was the noted center of that worship. I use the term worship in the broad sense of the word. The worship of Diana was worship, the form of which also contributed widely to the economic life of the region, and which was woven into the political and cultural identity of the city of Ephesus.
We might have difficulty understanding the influence of this idolatry if we confine ourselves to the thoughts of a stone idol and its associated images and temple worship. Our Christian brothers and sisters in Singapore and other parts of Asia would have a better understanding of this, because they are surrounded yet with this same type of idolatry.
But idolatry takes on many forms. If we, for example, just wrap our minds around the idolatry of entertainment in our culture, along with the worship of pleasure, and the far-reaching economics involved with the entertainment industry, including professional and even certain collegiate sports, then we might better understand how Paul’s labors fit into that culture.
When Paul came to Ephesus, he had to expect very difficult labors, as he had found elsewhere, including Philippi, where he and Silas had been imprisoned, as well as in the cities he visited after Philippi, being driven from every one of them by those who would kill them. But so precious was the gospel to Paul, such a treasure did he find it, that he would press on in his calling to preach that gospel.
Upon arriving at Ephesus, the apostle found a few believers, twelve men, and began with them, teaching them the fullness of the gospel in a way that they had not yet heard.
But Paul did not stop with them. He went to the synagogue, to those who in the history of their generations had been entrusted with the Word of God. There also he proclaimed, as he stated in, “all the counsel of God” (emphasis added). Which is to say, Paul unfolded to them Jesus Christ as the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes.
We are reminded also in Acts 19 that the preaching of the gospel always has a twofold effect.
Our focus is on the positive effect that salvation has upon the Christian’s entire perspective and life. But it is impossible to overlook the fact that the same power of the Word of God brings confusion and confirms the rejection of those who are enemies of the gospel. According to the sovereign determination of God that gospel not only saves, but also hardens ().
Verse 9 of Acts 19 gives expression to a truth revealed in a number of passages throughout Scripture, when it says that “divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way.” That term “way” refers to the way of the Lord, the gospel that Paul preached, namely, Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. When those who rejected that gospel spoke evil of that “way,” they spoke evil also of those who followed that “way.”
Noteworthy is the fact that this was the response from the Jews, the natural children of Abraham.
The apostle was preaching in the synagogue. He was preaching to those who were familiar with the Scriptures, and yet who were in bondage to the law. Having failed to see the wonder to which the law pointed, that of salvation in Jesus Christ alone by grace alone, the Jews clung to their own corrupted view of religion, a view focused on an earthly perspective of the kingdom and that, being man-centered and legalistic, fueled the pride of the human heart.
Whereas their own religion enabled them readily to overlook the issues of the heart and the summary of the law taught by Jesus, thereby giving them ample opportunity to look down upon others and to think of themselves quite highly because they were religious, these people had no need nor desire to look to Christ as their only salvation, let alone to listen to the apostle point to Him as Lord over our whole life. Too proud to be taught, they stood in their opinions, showing themselves as hard-hearted and as hard-headed as their fathers before them, who had killed the prophets.
They proved that by their reaction to the apostle’s preaching. They began to find fault with that preaching. They criticized the apostle’s doctrine, his approach to the Scriptures, his pointing to Christ as the fulfillment of the law. They criticized those who followed that “way.” To use the language of the text, they spoke evil, spreading their pernicious opposition to Christ, until God Himself removed that gospel from them.
But the opposition that Paul faced came not just from the Jews. Among the Gentiles in Ephesus Paul would find the same opposition that he had found in Philippi and many other cities he visited.
These things indicate that God will have our Christian worldview come to expression against the background and in the face of opposition and even persecution, both from within the instituted church and from the unchurched—a truth demonstrated repeatedly in the book of Acts.
But the power of that Word of God, the Word preached by the apostle, was also the power of God unto salvation in all those who believed.
Those who believed followed the apostle as he left his labors at the synagogue and began setting forth the Word of truth among the Gentiles.
Paul found an opportunity to teach daily in a lecture hall of a man named Tyrannus. We learn that part of the day Paul would work in the tent-making trade to support himself, and part of the day he would open the Scriptures to teach (; ). This went on for about two years, verse 10 tells us. But the power of that Word unto salvation is seen in the rest of what verse 10 reveals: “And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”
In this center of idolatry and magic, in this prominent world trade center, the fame of Paul’s miracles and the Word that he preached spread far and wide. Not only tradesmen who traveled to Ephesus, but also those who came to the city to pay homage to their goddess Diana, were intrigued by the reports concerning this man, and were led by God to him, that they might hear the gospel which Paul unashamedly proclaimed.
We do well to remember that the signs and wonders given the apostles were given them by Christ exactly for the purpose of confirming the divine authority of the Word that they preached, a fact stated explicitly inand confirmed in . Then we understand that the emphasis in the labors of the apostles was always on the Word preached and on the power of that gospel unto salvation by the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus testifies, “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.” Christ was at work by His Spirit, and that through the Word of His gospel.
, therefore, records an event that testifies of the power of the Word of God, not only as it works faith, but also as it brings to expression the life of Christ in those who are His.
A new perspective, a new worldview, marks those who are new creatures in Christ. So verse 19 records, “Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.”
That we have here evidence of true conversion is demonstrated in verse 18. The faith worked in them by the Word of God brought the conviction of sin to their hearts. They were given to see the nature of the sin in which they had been involved—it was idolatry. They saw it as the offense against God that it was. They knew that the kingdom of God was closed to any ensnared in idolatry, and that the only salvation was through the Christ whom Paul preached. The Lord Jesus, sent from God to pay the price for the guilt and sins of His people, the Lord Jesus who now was victorious, exalted at God’s right hand, working powerfully by His Holy Spirit through the Word, even as confirmed by the signs and wonders they had seen.
Thus, we read, they “came, and confessed, and showed their deeds.” Willingly, in heartfelt repentance, they proved the honesty of their sorrow of heart by confessing their sins. They acknowledged the folly to which they had given themselves. They grieved their wickedness and devoted themselves to renouncing it forever.
But their repentance was not mere words. They took all the instruments of their sin, the books in which they had invested great sums of money and time, and made a bonfire out of them. The text tells us that this was an act of great cost. “Fifty thousand pieces of silver” was the value of those books. No matter how you count that silver, whether the Roman denarius or the Jewish shekel, it amounted to thousands of dollars’ worth of books going up in flames.
Added to the price of the books was the cost of their reputation in the eyes of their neighbors. After all, “magic and sorcery, witchcraft and superstition, charms and incantations, ‘portents’ and the interpretation of dreams were deeply woven into the tissue of Roman life.”1 These new Christians, by their actions, were marking themselves in the eyes of their peers as lunatics, crazy extremists.
But that cost was little in their eyes compared to the price that Jesus paid for them.
Consider the testimony that these actions gave in that city where so much value was given to magic and superstition and the worship of Diana.
“What are you doing? Those books are valuable!”
“No, they’re not valuable to us anymore. We have seen the folly of them. We now belong to Him who alone has power over death, and who alone holds the future in His hands. His name is Jesus. Let us tell you about Him.”
The importance of this Word of God for us is found in the effects that the gospel of salvation has in the lives of those who are saved.
1 Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1972, 388.