Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Ephesians

THE IMITATION OF CHRIST

The apostle Paul tells the Ephesians to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Eph. 4:32; NKJV) and to “walk in love” (5:2).  These are all noble ideals, of course, but sometimes hard to put into actual practice.  Our natural instinct is to look out for ourselves and to retaliate when wronged.  To us it seems like a simple matter of justice.  And why should I go out of my way to do good to others?  I have enough of my own problems.

And yet Paul enjoins us to be kind and to forgive, and he underpins the exhortation by pointing to the example of Christ: “forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32), and “walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma” (5:2).  “God in Christ forgave you.”  The verb in the Greek (echarisato) suggests open-handed generosity – to forgive freely with no strings attached..  We were guilty sinners.  We fully deserved God’s wrath and condemnation.  Yet in Christ Jesus we have been forgiven – our guilt has been removed and we are accepted as perfectly righteous persons.

But how was that possible?  If we are guilty there is no denying the fact.  The answer is that “Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God” (5:2).  He “gave Himself.”  The verb here (paredoken) means to “hand over” or to “deliver up,” especially to a person or judgment.  Jesus was betrayed, tried and crucified.  But He did it voluntarily; He could have prevented it if He had wanted to, and yet He did it anyway.  And in so doing He was basically making Himself “an offering and a sacrifice to God.”  The imagery here is drawn from the Old Testament temple ritual in which various things would be brought to the temple and offered up on the altar.  In this way the thing offered was surrendered to God.  And the reason Christ offered Himself for us  is that He “loved us” – He had enough care and concern for us, guilty sinners that we were, that He was willing to lay down His very life on our behalf.  And according to our text, this was “a sweet-smelling aroma.”  We are told in the Book of Genesis that after the Flood Noah built an altar, sacrificed some animals, and burnt their carcasses on an altar.  “And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma” (Gen. 8:21).  And thus when Christ offered Himself up on the cross it was, figuratively speaking, “a sweet-smelling aroma” to God, something to which God took exquisite pleasure.

If, then, God has shown such grace and mercy towards us, what excuse do we have if we fail to show it towards those who have wronged us?  We are to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us” (5:2).  We should show that same care and compassion, that same willingness to forgive, as did Christ.  It is the attitude here that counts.  We should be “kind to one another,” ready and willing to do good to each other.  We should be “tenderhearted” – we should feel real sympathy and compassion in our hearts for others.  And that in turn means that we will be “forgiving one another.”  No one is perfect, but we are to love them anyway.  The hurt may be real, be we seek the other’s redemption, not his punishment.

In this way we can be a living example of Christ’s own love.  People should be able to look at us and get an idea of Christ must have been like in His earthly ministry.  And in this way by our example the world is confronted with Christ.

 

IS ANGER SINFUL?

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Cain Kills His Brother Abel

In his book The Christian Counselor’s Manual, well know author Jay Adams stated that “Anger, in and of itself, is not sinful.  We learn this from Paul’s careful distinction between being angry and sinning: ‘Be angry and sin not’ (Ephesians 4:26)” (p. 348).  But is Adams right?

It is true, as Dr. Adams pointed out, that “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11).  There is clearly such a thing as “righteous indignation.”  But Paul goes on, just a few verses later in Ephesians chapter 4, to say “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (v. 31; NKJV).  So did Paul just contradict himself?  Did he really intend to tell his readers in verse 26 to “be angry”?

What Paul is doing in verse 26 is quoting from Psalm 4, verse 4, which reads:

“Be angry and do not sin.

Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.   Selah.”

But the exhortation in Psalm 4 is directed towards David’s enemies; he is hardly encouraging them to be angry with himself.  Thus the verse probably should be taken in the sense of “if you will be angry beware of sinning” (Delitzsch).

There obviously is such a thing as righteous indignation, the sense in which God is angry with sinners.  But there is also a carnal, sinful anger, an anger that arises from our own fallen human nature with its sinful passions and desires.  What precisely is the difference between the two?

God’s anger is perfectly just and holy.  It arises from His love for righteousness and His thorough disgust with sin. And it is perfectly just: it is directed only against those who are genuinely culpable.  Paul warns the wicked in another context that “. . .you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’” (Rom. 2:5,6; Paul here is quoting Prov. 24:12).

Our anger, on the other hand, is usually a carnal passion that lashes out in blind fury against a perceived threat, whether real or imaginary.  When God did not accept Cain’s offering, Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell” (Gen. 4:5).  God confronts him about this, saying, “Why are you angry?  And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door.  And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (vv. 6,7).  Tragically, Cain did not heed the exhortation, and proceeded to murder his brother Abel.

But then what should be our response be when we have genuinely been wronged?  “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:19,20).  But does that mean that we should just let injustice go unpunished?  “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

If he is thirsty, give him a drink;

For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:19-21).

To return to our passage in Ephesians, Paul tells his readers, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (4:31).  But the object here is not just the absence of strife, but something positive as well.  Paul goes on to say, “And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (v. 32).  Instead of the carnal passion of anger, there ought to be a genuine, heartfelt sympathy for each other, and that should find expression in a willingness to forgive each other when wronged.  What is called for is sympathy, not retaliation; forgiveness, not vengeance.

The question is, do we respond to conflict in a godly, Christ-like manner?

BE CAREFUL LITTLE TONGUE

4.2.7

Van Gogh, Skull with Burning Cigarette

 

As we have seen in Eph. 4:17-24 Paul describes the transformation that should take place in a person’s life when he becomes a Christian.  We are to “put off . . .the old man” and “put on the new man” (vv. 22,245).  He then goes on to say “therefore” (v. 25).   He is about to describe the practical implications of this inward transformation.

And the first thing he mentions is lying.  “Therefore, putting away lying . . .” (Eph. 4:25; NKJV).  He then quotes a verse from the Old Testament, Zechariah 8:16: “Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.”  In Zechariah chapter 8 the Lord promised the future restoration of Israel.  But then He says,

“’These are the things you shall do:

Speak each man the truth to his neighbor;

Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice and peace;

Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor;

And do not love a false oath.

For all these are things that I hate,’

Says the Lord.”

Perjury, of course, is a violation of the Ninth Commandment.  But the underlying principle is that we should not harm our neighbor in any way through what we speak, and that includes even thinking about doing it: “Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor.”  All of our dealings with each other must be done in honesty.  And so detestable in the sight of God is dishonesty that He says He “hates” it.

Having quoted the verse from Zechariah Paul goes on to explain: “for we are members of one another.”  The natural tendency of the unregenerate heart is to see ourselves as isolated individuals in competition with each other.  If my interests conflict with your interests, I am going to defend myself.  And if that means that I have to lie about something I will do it.  But that is the essence of human depravity – the willingness to hurt each other in order to advance our own interests and that in complete disregard for the will of the Maker.

What the Bible says instead is that we are connected to each other.  Our actions affect each other, and we should have enough of a care and compassion for each other that we would never do anything to harm each other’s interests.  I should care for you as much as I care for myself.

But sins of the tongue involve more than just perjury or even lying.  For later in the chapter Paul gives this word of instruction: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (v. 29).  And then he goes on in the next chapter to say that among the things that should “not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints” are “filthiness,” “foolish talking,” and “coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (5:3,4).

Paul here speaks in very general terms – he does not give us a list of four-letter words banned by the Federal Communications Commission.  But the word translated “corrupt” in 4:29 literally means “rotten” or “putrid,” which conveys the image of something which is both ugly and disgusting and at the same time utterly worthless.  Commentator H.C.G. Moule says that it refers to “all talk tainted with moral decay, the miserable innuendo, the double entendre of sin, as well as more involved impurity . . .”   And Paul draws a contrast between this “rotten speech” and “what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

As noted above, in chapter 5 verse 4 Paul condemns “filthiness,” “foolish talking,” and coarse jesting.”  “Filthiness” means that which is ugly, shameful or base.  Another commentator, Marvin Vincent, says it refers to obscenity.  The word translated “coarse jesting” originally had a positive connotation in secular Greek – it described a person who was witty and urbane.  Here, however, it has the negative connotation of coarse jesting or buffoonery.

The basic principle here is that we are to use our tongues in a constructive manner, with the end in view of helping others rather than tearing them down.  Do we use our speech to ridicule others, make light of the sexual relationship, brag about our own misdeeds, or make ourselves look good at someone else’s expense?  Then it is a misuse of an instrument that God intended for constructive purposes.  We should be using our tongues to encourage and edify others, not make fun of them or destroy their reputations.  Be careful little tongue what you say!

NON-CONFORMITY

4.2.7

Pieter Claesz: A Vanitas Still Life, 1645

 

When a person becomes a genuine believer in Jesus Christ he is a changed person – he has a new relationship with God, a new outlook on life, a new set of values and new motives.  He has spiritual life.  But he must still live in the fallen human society from which he came, and that puts him in an awkward position.  He lives and works with the people he knows, but can no longer conform to their standards of behavior.

Much of the second half of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians is taken up with this problem.  “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind. . .” (Eph. 4:17; NKJV).  “Walk” is the biblical word for how one conducts his life; and according to this verse Christian believers are not to live like the rest of society around them.  But why?  What is wrong with getting along with everyone else?

Well, first of all, look at how the text describes human society.  The Gentiles walk “in the futility of their mind, . . .who being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (vv. 17,19).  On the one hand they are “past feeling” – their conscience no longer bothers them, and they have no sympathy for others.   Then they have “given themselves over” to “lewdness.”  They have largely abandoned themselves to their physical desires and appetites.  The word translated “lewdness” implies a complete lack of restraint – it suggests licentiousness, wantonness, or excess.  “Uncleanness” is a term Paul often uses to describe a variety of sexual sins, including homosexuality (cf. Rom. 1:24,26,27).  And the Gentiles do this with “greediness” – their desire is never satisfied; they always want more.  And while this may present a rather extreme example, it is nevertheless true that secular society is largely motivated by self-interest, and only the law and social stigma restrain people from the worst excesses.

But this puts human society at odds with God’s moral standards.  Paul describes those standards this way: “for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph. 5:9 – some ancient manuscripts and versions read “fruit of the light”).  What God wants, what He expects of all human beings is “goodness, righteousness and truth” – we are to do what is good for others, what is right in itself, and what is honest and true.

This means, positively, that we are to make it our aim in life to be “finding out what is acceptable to the Lord” (5:10) and “understand what the will of the Lord is” (5:17).  The word translated “finding out” (“trying to learn” – NASV; “try to discern” – ESV) basically means to put something to the test to determine its true character.  The idea here is that we apply the general principles of God’s Word to the individual circumstances of our lives in order to determine what is “acceptable” (lit., “well-pleasing”) to the Lord.  Our aim in life should always be to please God in the way we live.

But negatively this means that we are to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (5:11).  There are certain things we are not to do, no matter what the rest of society thinks.  These things are “the unfruitful works of darkness,”  the often compulsive, anti-social and self-destructive habits and addictions that are so widely accepted today – everything from smoking cigarettes to cheating on your spouse.

What it comes down to is that either we are going to do things God’s way or man’s way.  “But,” some will ask, “what do we gain by doing things God’s way?  Why make our lives difficult by going against the world?”  If we just go by what we can see in the here-and-now, it may seem self-defeating to go against the world.  We stand to lose family, friends and economic opportunities.  What we must remember, however, is that there is more to life than just the here and now.  “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (5:5).  The “kingdom of Christ and God” refers to a time when the Messiah will establish peace and justice throughout the earth.  Only the righteous, however, will “inherit” this kingdom, i.e., enter into it and enjoy its blessings.  Exactly when and how this kingdom comes into existence is a matter of intense discussion and debate.  While there is one sense in which it is already present within the church (Lu. 17:20,21; Col. 1:13), when the Scripture speaks of “inheriting the kingdom” it generally refers to a future event, i.e., when Christ returns and establishes His kingdom on earth (Matt. 25:31-34).  And if the kingdom is supposed to be the reign of perfect peace and righteousness, it follows from this that the unrighteous will not be allowed in.  The rich and powerful may think that they can get away with a great deal now, but they will not then.  In the end it is God’s will that will prevail.  “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Eph. 5:6,7).

HOW THE CHURCH IS SUPPOSED TO WORK

 

We have already seen in our studies in Ephesians that all genuine believers are a part of the universal church, which is described as “the body of Christ.”  We have also seen that we are to be “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3; NKJV).  But how is this possible?  Given the highly fragmented church scene today, how could we ever achieve church unity?

Part of our problem is that the church today does not function the way it was intended to.  Today when we see the word “church” in our Bibles we think that we know what it means.  We automatically think of an organization that meets in a building and has a paid pastor brought in from the outside to run the various programs and activities of the church.  Most of the church members simply show up on a Sunday morning and sit passively in their pews while the church runs through the program outlined in the bulletin.  There is music, there is an offering to defray expenses, and there is a comforting message delivered by the pastor.

That, however, is not how a church is supposed to function.  What we have inherited from the past is an institutional model of church life that slowly evolved over the centuries.  But it is very far from what is described in the New Testament.

In Eph. 4:7-16 the apostle Paul gives us an overall picture of how the church is supposed to operate.  The first thing that is to be noted is that the ministry involves the exercise of spiritual gifts.  “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7).  “Grace,” in this context, is the special ability to perform a spiritual ministry, and it is something that is given by Christ Himself through the Holy Spirit.  It is not a diploma received from an academic institution.  There are people who have never darkened the doors of a college or seminary who have the spiritual gift of teaching.  Sadly, there are many who have seminary degrees who do not.  Our text says that individuals have these gifts “according to the measure of Christ’s gift,” i.e., it is up to Christ to decide which Christian has which gift.  Our job is to discern who has which gift, not to create a gift which has not been given.

Secondly, it should be noted that every member of the church has a spiritual gift of some sort.  “But to each one of us grace was given.”  Thus ministry is not the exclusive prerogative of the paid professional.  Rather, all the members of the church should be actively involved in ministering to each other.

Some of the gifts, of course, do involve a formal teaching ministry, and Paul lists these in verse 11: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers . . .”  In this context the term “apostles” evidently refers to the twelve original apostles who functioned as the personal representatives of Christ and were the human founders of the church.  There is much debate today, of course, about whether or not the gift of prophecy still exists, but there is no clear indication in the New Testament that it was meant to cease, and there have been incidents of prophecy down through history that appear authentic.  “Evangelists” would probably be what we would call today missionaries – traveling preachers who would parent churches.  There would have no distinction in Paul’s day between foreign and domestic missions.  Anyone who was sent to preach the gospel to the lost was an evangelist.  And then, of course, there were pastors and teachers, who would typically occupy the office of elder in a local assembly.

But what is the aim of the teaching ministry?  Paul tells us that it is “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (v. 12).  In other words, the aim here is not to concentrate ministry in the hands of a single person or a small professional staff, but rather to make it possible for everyone in the church to use their individual spiritual gifts to minister to each other.

But what does this accomplish?  The passage makes it clear that the ultimate aim of the ministry is spiritual unity: “that we all come to the unity of the faith” (v. 13).  And how is this accomplished?  By coming to “the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  And this, in turn, means that “we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the treachery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (v .14).  In other words, doctrine, truly sound doctrine, should unite rather than divide.  And it does this by drawing us each closer to Christ, and as we each draw closer to Christ we draw closer to each other, like an ever constricting circle.  Thus, “speaking the truth in love” we are to “grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ” (v. 15).  The unity of the universal church depends on a common relationship with Christ Himself.  Or, to put it another way, the Holy Spirit does not lead different parts of the body in different directions at the same time.  If we are all truly following Christ then we should all be headed in the same direction.

The end result should be that “the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (v. 16).  Here it will be noted that “the whole body,” not just a privileged few, has an important role to play in building itself up in love.  (To “edify” literally means “to build up”).

Today most churches are filled with nominal Christians who are content simply to show up on Sunday mornings and sit there passively in the pews and be spoon-fed by the pastor.  This is not what church is supposed to look like, however.  It is supposed to be an active, living fellowship of brothers and sisters in the Lord who care for each other and minister to each other’s needs.  It is in this practical, concrete way that the love of Christ is made manifest to the world.

CHURCH UNITY

DSCN0949

Interior, East Troupsburg Baptist Church, Troupsburg, NY

We have seen, in our last blog post, that salvation makes a difference.  A person who is saved should be different from what he was before, and he should be different from the unsaved world still around him.

But how should he be different?  What exactly is the difference?  Paul spends most of the rest of the epistle explaining what exactly that difference should be.

Interestingly he begins by discussing church unity and the attitude we should have in order to achieve that unity.  We are to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3; NKJV).

Here he calls for three basic traits that are necessary to preserve Christian unity: lowliness, gentleness and longsuffering.  The word “lowliness,” (literally, “lowliness of mind”) denotes that basic trait of humility that we should have when we think about ourselves in relation to everyone else in the church.  We are not necessarily better, smarter or more important than anyone else.  We are all brothers and sisters, members of the same family in the Lord, and we should treat each other with kindness and mutual respect.

Likewise a Christian ought to be known for his “gentleness.”  He is to be thoughtful and considerate of others.  He should be sensitive to their feelings and be unwilling to cause unnecessary hurt.

And then a Christian should be longsuffering.  The Greek word is often used to translate a Hebrew phrase in the Old Testament that means “slow to anger.”  It means restraining one’s anger in the face of provocation.  Tensions and conflicts will inevitably arise, but Christians need to be patient with each other, slow to anger and ready to forgive.

With these basic traits in mind, then, Christians are to be “bearing with one another in love.”  We come from different backgrounds and have different personalities.  We may irritate and annoy each other.  But we are called to “forbear one another in love,” to use the phrase in the old KJV.

All of this, Paul says, logically follows from the great doctrines of salvation contained in chapters 1-3.  Today we often associate that theology, with its strong emphasis on human depravity and salvation by grace alone, with “Calvinism,” although Calvin certainly did not write the Epistle to the Ephesians.  But today if someone is a “Calvinist,” if he truly understands the implications of his theology, he will be marked by humility, gentleness and patience.  He, above all others, should recognize that we were helpless, guilty, hell-deserving sinners, and that it was only through God’s grace that we were saved at all.  And that should make us truly humble and make us more forbearing of others.

Paul tells us that we are to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  That is a foreign concept to most American evangelicals.  We are used to seeing a dizzying array of competing denominations which often seem to have little in common with each other.  And yet Paul says that we are to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  But what “unity”?

Paul goes on to tell us.  “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (vv. 4-6).

First of all, there is “one body.”  Here, of course, he is referring to the Christian church as a whole, which Paul had previously described as the body of Christ (1:22,23).  Everyone who is a born again Christian is a member of that body, regardless of whatever denominational title he may claim for himself.

Likewise there is “one Spirit.”  Everyone who has been born again has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of him.  But there is only one Holy Spirit, and we each share that same Spirit.  That means that there is an intimate connection between each and every genuine Christian believer.

Paul goes on to say that “you were called in one hope of your calling.”  The “calling,” it will be remembered, is how God drew us to Christ, and hence there exists among true Christians a common, shared experience of coming out of darkness into light.

Paul notes that there is one Lord – we do not serve several different Christs; and one faith – we all have an active trust in the same Savior.  But then Paul says “one baptism,” and here we run into a difficulty.  Some of us would maintain that what Paul has in mind here is believer’s baptism, in which an adult (or at least an adolescent) makes a conscious decision to publicly identify himself publicly with Christ.  But many churches practice infant baptism in which the person receiving the sacrament (to use their terminology) makes no such formal, public commitment.  Presumably though, when that person later seeks admission as a communicant member of that church he claims his baptism as his own.  To the extent, then, that we have each made a formal, public commitment of some sort, we share that in common as well.

And then Paul concludes by noting that there is “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (v. 6 – the majority of Greek manuscripts, along with the Latin Vulgate, read “and in us all”).  Ultimately all genuine Christian believers share a spiritual union with God Himself.  He is our Father; we are under His authority; He works through us, and He lives within us all.

Thus what unites us as evangelical Christians is far more significant than our differences of opinion on secondary issues.  And what God clearly wants from us as His people is that we “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  May we all repent in dust and ashes.

 

DOCTRINE AND PRACTICE

 

Paul, the inspired apostle, was undoubtedly, after Christ Himself, the greatest Christian theologian of all time.   And yet he was no arm-chair, ivory tower academic theologian.  In fact, he never even wrote a treatise on systematic theology.  Instead he was what we would call today an “occasional theologian,” i.e., he wrote as the occasion demanded, and addressed specific issues as they arose.  Thus what he has left us is a series of letters, letters in which he addresses specific issues facing the churches of his time.  The result is a theology which, while not necessarily systematic, is at the heart of it practical and edifying.

One such example, of course, is Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  Written from a jail cell (probably in Rome in the early 60’s) to the church at Ephesus in Asia Minor, possibly with a wider group of churches in view as well.  And like many of his epistles, the one to the Ephesians begins with a doctrinal section and concludes with a section devoted to practical exhortation.

The transition from the doctrinal to the practical occurs at Eph. 4:1: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you are called” (NKJV).  Notice in particular the word “therefore.”  What he is saying, in effect, is that the practical section of the letter logically follows from the doctrinal.  For Paul the two cannot be separated.  There is no such thing as a purely speculative theology that is not related to Christian living, and there is no such thing as Christian living which is not grounded in an understanding of God’s workings with men.  The two are intimately connected together.

So Paul says that we should “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.”  The “calling” was the way that they had been brought to Christ, to become Christian believers, as described in the first half of the letter.  And in that section Paul has laid out the great doctrines of election and predestination, of redemption, of total depravity and salvation by grace through faith.  Salvation is fundamentally a work of God’s grace.  Thus Paul summarizes his argument in the last two verses of Chapter 3: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen” (3:20,21).  The glory goes to God, and the glory goes to Him because of the greatness of His power that works in us.  Salvation is a work of God’s grace.  We do not save ourselves; it is God who saves us. And He does not just forgive our sins; He changes us inwardly as well.  Thus the church, as a body of saved believers, should be a monument and testimony to God’s grace and power.

But then, that being the case, how does that affect the way we live?  We are to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (4:1).  We are God’s church; we have been adopted into His family.  Christ His Son died on the cross to save us from our sins.  We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us.  Two conclusions follow from this: first of all our conduct should be consistent with our status.  Every Christian is a “saint” by virtue of his salvation; he should not be seen living like a criminal or a derelict.  Christ did not die on the cross in order to make us self-righteous hypocrites; He died to make us monuments to His grace.

The second implication is that there should be evidence of God’s transforming power in our lives.  If there is no evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, then we do not gave the Spirit.  And if we do not have the Spirit, we are not saved.

In other words, salvation makes a real difference.  It changes us.  We are no longer what we once were.  Let us live accordingly, and to God be the glory.

A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

 

If you were a pastor, what would you desire for your congregation? Paul had spent two years at the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor. The believers there were dear to his heart. What did he want for them? He tells us in a prayer he has for them in Eph. 3:14-19. It is basically that they would have a meaningful relationship with God. But what does that entail?

The passage begins like this: “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (v. 16; NKJV). Paul will go on to elaborate on this in Chapter 6. Suffice it to say here that we are engaged in a spiritual war, that ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12), and therefore we are to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (6:10). This strength comes from “His Spirit in the inner man” (3:16). It is the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us that gives us the strength to live the Christian life. Our own natural ability is not enough.

But then Paul goes on: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith’ (v. 17). Christ, of course, is already in our hearts through faith if we are genuinely Christians. But here Paul seems to be talking about the full influence of Christ in our hearts. By “hearts” he means our whole inner being, not just our emotions. And as we walk by faith, as we trust and obey, we grow closer to Him and His influence is increasingly felt in our lives.

But Paul goes on. He says that we are to be “rooted and grounded in love” (v. 17). And then he goes on to elaborate further: that we “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge . . .” (vv. 18,19). In short, we as finite, mortal human beings are confronted with the infinite, eternal glory of God Himself, and we stagger at the prospect. He is beyond our comprehension.

And if we could but faintly glimpse the love that Christ has for us guilty, undeserving sinners, a love that led Him to give up His very life for us, how differently would we treat others around us! How patient, how understanding, how merciful we would be! That is what it means to be “rooted and grounded in love.”

But then Paul goes on. He prays that “you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (v. 19). This is a bit like trying to fit the ocean in a teacup. How can “all the fullness of God” fit into us? And yet Paul says “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” – that He would completely fill us, that He would fill us to overflowing, that He would fill us with all of His goodness, love, justice and mercy. At that point we truly become the image of God in man.

But how does it all work out in actual practice? The answer is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer. “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). Part of the fruit of the Spirit, of course, is “love, joy, peace’ (Gal. 5:22). If we have the Holy Spirit, if we are walking according to the Spirit, these qualities will fill our hearts.

But more to the point, the Holy Spirit gives us an assurance of God’s love towards us individually. “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15,16). This is sometimes referred to as “the inner testimony of the Spirit,” and people experience it in various degrees. But according to the testimony of those who have experience it, it is truly “heaven on earth.”

It will be noted, once again, that this is a prayer: “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened . . .” (vv. 14,16). A close, personal relationship with God, the experience of His love, is a privilege that must be bestowed by Him. He must grant it; we must ask for it. It is not something that we work up ourselves.

At the heart of the Christian life is a relationship with God. Mere church attendance is not enough. Not even doctrinal orthodoxy or financial giving are enough. What God wants is our hearts. Nothing less will do.

THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD

 

The apostle Paul found himself in a unique position in the history of redemption. Originally a devout Jew, trained as a rabbi, he converted to Christianity and became “the apostle to the Gentiles.” He spent his ministry travelling through the Graeco-Roman world preaching the message of salvation far and wide. And people from every conceivable background responded. Churches were established throughout Asia Minor and Greece.

This was revolutionary. Up until this point Christianity had been largely a Jewish phenomenon. Christianity was an offshoot from Judaism. But now Gentiles were flocking into the church, and this created a theological problem. What was the relationship of these Gentile converts to Judaism? Should they become Jewish proselytes, get circumcised, and keep the Jewish Law? Or did they occupy a different place in the overall scheme of things. And Paul, the Jewish rabbi turned Christian missionary, found himself right in the very center of the controversy.

But for Paul it was more than just an abstract, theoretical problem. It was an intensely practical one as well. He had established churches throughout Asia Minor and Greece. These churches contained believers who came from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. But how were they to get along together? They had practically nothing in common. The Jews were used to living a very moral life, bound by strict rules and regulations. The Gentiles were used to wine, women and song. How, then, would believers from these two very different backgrounds to get along with each other in church?

Thus it was in this context that Paul wrote his epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. And while these two letters are very similar to each other, they are also noticeably different. Ephesians is apparently aimed at a predominately Gentile audience, while Colossians appears to have been addressed to believers from a Jewish background.

And thus Paul, in Eph. 2:11-3:13, comes to reflect on the Gentiles in God’s overall plan. And in the process he describes for us the nature of the universal church, which he calls “the household of God.”

Paul notes that the Gentiles, in their former life, were “without Christ, being aliens from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12; NKJV). “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). Paul goes on to explain that Christ, through His death on the cross, brought salvation to both Jews and Gentiles.

But now what? “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God’ (v. 19). Here Paul uses two metaphors to describe the position of believers in Christ: he says that we are “fellow citizens” and “members of the household of God.” “Fellow citizens” suggests that Christians are all members of a common political entity, with all the rights and privileges thereof, as we would say. “Members of the household of God” means that we are all part of a common household headed by God Himself.

But Paul goes on to elaborate. This “household,” to change the imagery a bit, has been “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (v. 20). The church, the universal church, was founded by Christ Himself; at first through His own earthly ministry, and then through the apostles and prophets of the First Century church. And what happens since then is that in Him “the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (v. 21). The church is “fitted together,” it is a coherent whole. Moreover, it is “a holy temple in the Lord.” The imagery would have been unmistakable for a First Century Christian, especially for one from a Jewish background. A temple was a sacred building, a building in which the divine presence resided. And thus God is pictured as being personally present among His people. The church is not just a human social organization; rather, it is characterized by the very presence of God Himself.

Thus it becomes apparent that what Paul is describing here is the universal church, the sum total of all Christian believers throughout history, from the time of Christ until now.

Thus Paul brings it all home to the specific church in Ephesus: “in Whom you also are being build together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (v. 22). The church at Ephesus was a local expression of the universal church. Each local church is “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” It is not a mere social club; it is the communion of the saints built around the presence of God Himself. And specifically, this communion is realized “in the Spirit.” It is specifically the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, who is a t work in the church creating the spiritual life. At the practical level it is the Holy Spirit who creates the church and makes its ministries effective.

Because the church is based on union with Christ two logical corollaries follow: 1) True believers who are united to Christ are united to each other by virtue of their common bond with the Savior, and 2) anyone who is not united with Christ is not a part of the universal church, and therefore there can be no thought of “fellowship” between believers and unbelievers. In other words, evangelical Christians should be united with each other and separate from the world, including apostate liberal denominations.

Unfortunately two dangerous and opposing tendencies have made themselves felt in the modern evangelical community. The first is a spirit of accommodation which manifests itself in the misguided notion that the way to win others to Christ is to make ourselves look like the world. This was seen in the Neo-evangelical movement of the 1940’s and then in the “Young Evangelicals” and more recently in the “Emerging Church.”

But then there is the opposite tendency as well, manifested in self-described fundamentalist churches that practice “Second Degree” separation. That is, they separate not just from unbelievers but from fellow believers whom they deem to be in error over one doctrine or practice or another. Thus they refuse to have fellowship with other Bible-believing Christians because they use the wrong translation of the Bible or the wrong kind of music in worship. The result is endless divisions within the professing church, and this hardly glorifies Christ at all.

What we need to do is to focus on our relationship with Christ, and as we do so we will draw closer together with each other and farther apart from the world. And then the church will start to look like it should be.

THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION

 

We have seen that salvation is “by grace . . . through faith. . .not of works” (Eph.2:8,9; NKJV). Does that mean, then, that good works are unnecessary? That we can live like the devil and still go to heaven?

It all depends on what we mean by “unnecessary.” Salvation is not based on human merit – we do not earn our way into heaven. But we are required to repent – to show genuine remorse for the sins that we have already committed. And good works will naturally flow from salvation. If we have been genuinely born again we are changed persons – we do not live the way we used to live before. In other words, good works are not the necessary precondition of salvation, but they are the necessary consequence of it. We do not do good works in order to become saved; we do them because we are saved.

Paul brings this out 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.” He begins by saying that “we are His workmanship.” Spiritually the Christian is what he is as a result of what God has done inside of him. And what is God’s aim in “creating” us? We were created “for good works which god prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” And how did He “prepare them beforehand”? By providing us with the things that we need to live a godly life. He gave us the Bible to teach and to guide us; He gave us His Holy Spirit to produce His fruit in us. And yet this does not eliminate human responsibility. God gives us these things so “that we should walk in them.” We are the ones who do the walking. But we do it because of what God has done in our lives.

Paul goes on to explain the transformation in chapter 4, verses 20-24. Here he speaks of “learning Christ” and “being taught by Him.” He does not say that “you heard about Him,” but rather that “you heard Him.” You were, in some sense, at least, taught by Christ Himself.

And what did we learn from Christ? “. . .that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man . . . and that you put on the new man” (vv. 22, 24). The verbs “put off” and “put on” suggest the imagery of a change of clothing – you take off your old garments and put on new ones. It is a picture of how dramatic the change is in the new believer’s life. Furthermore, what we “put off” is “your former conduct, the old man” (v. 22). The change is so radical and dramatic that it is practically the same thing as discarding our old personal identity. The way we used to live before we became Christians was “corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” We went through life letting our self-centered desires guide and control us, and we became enslaved to sin as a result. That whole corrupt way of life we are to put completely behind us. In it’s place we are to “put on the new man” (v. 24).

But what is this new way of life like? First of all, it involves a profound inward change. Paul says that we are to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” As we commune with Christ in prayer and personal Bible study, the Holy Spirit changes our thoughts and desires, and enables us to see things differently. We have a new awareness of spiritual reality, a new worldview and a different set of values. We have different motives and desires. As a result we live differently than we did before. We live “in true righteousness and holiness” (v. 24). And this “new man” was “created according to God.” It is something God creates inside of us by the presence and power of His Holy Spirit, and it makes our lives conform to His own holy nature.

What all of this involves, practically speaking, to that Paul devotes the second half of his epistle. But the point of it here is this: salvation involves both justification and sanctification. We are saved from both the guilt and power of sin. Good works are the evidence of new life in Christ. Let us “pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).