Called, Loved, Kept

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. – Jude 1:1-4 ESV

This very short book bears the name of its author, Jude. In the Greek language in which this letter was originally written, the name is actually, Judas. Over the centuries, most English translations changed to name to Jude in order to eliminate any risk of confusing the author with the disciple who betrayed Jesus. The traditional view on the author’s identity is that he was Judas, the brother of James and the half-brother of Jesus. The gospel of Matthew introduces us to these two characters. When Jesus had returned to His hometown of Nazareth, His neighbors had remarked, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:55 ESV).

Judas would have been his Greek name. But in Hebrew, he would have been called Judah, which means “praise.” Jude was a Jewish Christian, but, like his brother James, would have been considered a Hellenized of Greek-speaking Jew from the region of Galilee. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, his family had a difficult time reconciling His claims to be the Son of God. John records in his gospel account that “not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). We know that Jude and James both came to faith in Christ at some point because they are listed as being in the crowd that had gathered in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came.

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. – Acts 1:14 ESV

The author even introduces himself as the brother of James, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. These men would have been highly influential in the early days of the spread of Christianity. Their relationship with Jesus would have given them strong credibility among the people. And the greeting of this letter clearly reveals that Jude was writing to “those who are called” – a reference to believers in Jesus Christ. This was a common designation when referring to Christians, in part because of the words of Jesus Himself.

“For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me…” – John 6:44 NLT

Jesus clearly taught that salvation was a work of God. Without His direct involvement, no man would come to faith in Christ. Jesus went on to say, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me” (John 6:65 NLT). And Jesus claimed that He came to earth in order to do the will of His Father, and He clearly articulated what that will involved: “…this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me” (John 6:37 NLT).

Years later, Jesus prayed in the garden, just hours before His death. And He talked to His heavenly Father about those He had called and given to Jesus to His followers.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” – John 17:6 NLT

My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory.” – John 17:9-10 NLT

The apostle Paul also spoke of this calling by God.

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

Paul told the Corinthians believers: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV), and he reminded the believers in Rome that God’s “call can never be withdrawn” (Romans 11:29 NLT).

But not only were those to whom Jude wrote called by God, they were “beloved” by God. They were literally wrapped in or surrounded by the love of God. And they were preserved in that love by Jesus Christ. Again, back to the garden on the night Jesus was betrayed, He prayed to the Father, “During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost…” (John 17:12 NLT). And Jesus continues to guard and protect His own, through the indwelling presence of the Spirit. Not a single one whom called has called will ever have to fear the loss of God’s love, because he is kept in that love because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. And Paul comforted the believers in Rome with these words:

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

Now that Jude has established his identity and reminded his audience of who they were in Christ, he lets them know what he desires for them.

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. – Jude 1:2 ESV

These three things are non-negotiables for the believer in Christ. We cannot survive, let along thrive, without them. Because of our sin natures, we will continue to wrestle with the desire to disobey God. We will need His mercy all along the way. Our growth in Christlikeness will require His undeserved kindness and good will. We will fail, but His love never will.

And life in this fallen world will leave us feeling overwhelmed and out of control. We will struggle with a sense of confusion as we attempt to live our lives in the midst of all the chaos that surrounds us. But Jude assures his readers that God can and will give them His peace – a miraculous calm in the midst of the storms of life.

And none of us can fully enjoy the Christian life without a growing understanding of just how much God loves us. That increasing awareness of being loved by God will translate into a selfless, sacrificial love for others. We will love because we have been loved. And it seems that Jude’s desire for these three indispensible, God-produced virtues, was based on his knowledge of the particular circumstances his audience  faced.

There was a growing problem taking place within their local congregations and Jude wastes no time in addressing it.

…some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. – Jude 1:4 NLT

Jude had intended to write a much more comforting and encouraging letter dealing with their common unity in the faith. But he had become aware of a dangerous heresy invading their congregations and he felt compelled to deal with it. In the rest of his letter, Jude will call his fellow believers “to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people” (Jude 1:3 NLT). There was a false teaching being spread within their local faith communities that threatened the very foundation of the gospel message. It was raising questions regarding the grace of God and the manner in which Christians were to live out their faith in everyday life. And, as far as Jude was concerned, it was not to be tolerated.

And Jude isn’t in an accommodating or compromising mood. He isn’t out to have a discussion on the particular views of these people. In fact, he boldly declares that these so-called Christians “have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4 NLT). Not exactly politically-correct language. But Jude knew the danger of this kind of teaching. It sounded appealing, but it would have a deadly impact on the gospel message and the spiritual health of the church. So, Jude will level a stinging indictment against its proponents and charge the believers to whom he is writing to stand firm and remove this cancer from their midst.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Called By God.

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,

“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” – Jeremiah 1:4-10 ESV

The verses above contain the conversation Jeremiah had with God concerning his calling to be a prophet. They reflect Yahweh’s sovereign selection of Jeremiah and Jeremiah’s reluctant response to the news. It is easy to read these words and miss the significance of the fact that Jeremiah was talking with God Almighty. We are not told how Jeremiah received this news from God. The text simply says, “Now the word of the Lord came to me” (Jeremiah 1:4 ESV). Was it in the form of a vision? Was it an audible voice? Did an angel appear? We don’t know. But suffice it to say, that Jeremiah was probably a bit surprised to hear from God, no matter how it happened. And, when he heard what God had to say, it obviously caught Jeremiah by surprise. Jeremiah was probably as young as 16, and no older than 20, when he heard this call from God. Which explains Jeremiah’s response: “I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:7 ESV). Hearing God speak to him was shocking enough, but when he heard what God had for him to do, Jeremiah was understandably dumbfounded. He was just a kid. What was God thinking? He didn’t have what it took to be a prophet. But God opened up his conversation with Jeremiah with a statement that should have brought the young man comfort.

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5 NLT

Notice what God says. He tells Jeremiah that He knew (yada’) Jeremiah before gestation. The Hebrew word provides a glimpse into God’s incredible omniscience and sovereignty. He knew, had an awareness of, Jeremiah long before he was even conceived. This was not some last-minute selection process where God looked down from heaven and spied Jeremiah and determined he would make a good candidate for a prophet. No, God had pre-ordained Jeremiah’s birth and his ultimate appointment as a prophet. Jeremiah had been created by God for his role as a prophet. In speaking of Jeremiah’s appointment, God used the Hebrew word, qadash. It most often gets translated as “sanctify” and it usually means to consecrate or set apart as sacred. God was telling Jeremiah that he had been set apart by God for His use. He had been created by God for a specific purpose. He was not a cosmic accident or a byproduct of random chance. He had been fore-ordained and set apart to be God’s divinely appointed spokesperson. And that word “appointed” is the Hebrew word, nathan, which most often gets translated as “give”. God was giving Jeremiah to the nations as a prophet. Jeremiah belonged to God and was being sent by God to minister to His people.

And yet, Jeremiah responds to this astounding news by telling God, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:6 ESV). All God’s talk of Jeremiah being preordained and created specifically for this role fell on deaf ears. To Jeremiah, this all sounded like a case of mistaken identity. God must have gotten him confused with someone else. So he attempted to inform God that he was too young and too ill-equipped for this assignment. But what Jeremiah failed to comprehend was that the God who had set him apart even prior to his conception, knew things about Jeremiah he didn’t know himself. God hadn’t just made Jeremiah for the job, He had equipped him to accomplish it. Within Jeremiah’s DNA were all the qualities and attributes he would need to do what he had been created to do.

God rejected Jeremiah’s attempt to use his young age as an excuse. God was not going to be limited by what Jeremiah believed to be a chronological deficiency. And his inability to speak was not going to be a deal-breaker either. God had made Jeremiah specifically for this job. He was perfectly suited for the assignment. He just didn’t know it yet. So, God simply told Jeremiah, “you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you” (Jeremiah 1:7 NLT). The only thing Jeremiah had to worry about was obeying God. He was going to be told where to do and exactly what to say. Jeremiah wasn’t going to have to come up with a criteria or agenda. He wasn’t going to have to write any speeches. God had all the details pre-planned, down to the very words Jeremiah was going to say. Not only that, God knew how it was all going to turn out. Which is why He told Jeremiah, “And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you” (Jeremiah 1:8 NLT). At this point, Jeremiah had no idea what it was that God was going to have him say. He wasn’t even sure where he was being sent. But God knew. And God was fully aware of how Jeremiah’s assignment was going to turn out. All Jeremiah needed to know was that God had created him for this role and that the outcome was completely up to God.

God touched Jeremiah’s lips and told him, “I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9 ESV). This symbolic gesture was designed to assure Jeremiah that the words he spoke would be the words of God. Yahweh would be using Jeremiah’s lips to deliver His message to the nations. He would be speaking on behalf of God. And Jeremiah’s assignment was “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10 ESV). In these words we have a synopsis of Jeremiah’s message. He was going to tell the people of Judah about God’s plan to bring judgment upon them in the form of the Babylonians. They would be destroyed because of their disobedience and unfaithfulness to God. But one day, they would return to the land and be restored to God. God would rebuke, but He would also redeem. He would punish, but He would also pardon. 

Jeremiah didn’t need to doubt his calling. He didn’t need to worry about his qualification. He didn’t even need to worry about whether he would be successful or not. God had it all under control. From beginning to end, this was all part of God’s sovereign plan. There were no loose ends. There were no aspects of the plan that had not been taken into account. No matter how Jeremiah felt about his qualifications or how he might later view the success of his efforts, God knew what He was doing and had already determined exactly what was going to happen. All Jeremiah had to do was go and speak.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

You Call This A Plan?

And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.” One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul. And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him. – 1 Samuel 16:11b-23 ESV

David, the youngest son of Jesse, was eventually brought before the prophet, Samuel. And while the passage describes David as ruddy in color, with beautiful eyes and a handsome exterior, that had nothing to do with his selection by Samuel. God had already told the prophet, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV). While David’s outward appearance had nothing to do with his selection by God, it is interesting to note that he is described as “ruddy.” The Hebrew word is ‘admoniy and it can refer to someone who is red-headed or who has a reddish complexion. It is the same word used to describe Esau at his birth (Genesis 25:25).

David was a young, handsome, redheaded, Hebrew shepherd boy. When he walked into the presence of Samuel, Jesse and his seven brothers that day, he would have stood out like a sore thumb. There was Eliab, who by Samuel’s own admission, had the look of a king. Each of the brothers who had heard the prophet say of them, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one” (1 Samuel 16:8 ESV), had to stand and watch as Samuel took the oil and poured it over David’s head. There is no indication that anyone but Samuel knew the significance of his actions. Samuel had not told Jesse why he had come to Bethlehem. He had not indicated the reason for wanting to see each of Jesse’s sons. And even when David arrived, Samuel was the only one to whom God said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he” (1 Samuel 16:12 ESV). What is missing in this scene are any signs of celebration or trepidation. Had they realized that David had just been anointed the next king of Israel, you would have thought that Jesse and his sons would have reacted with either joy or fear. Joy, because it was not everyday that one of your own family members was anointed to be the king of Israel. Fear, because they would have realized that King Saul was probably not going to take the news all that well. Had they recognized the significance of what had just happened, it seems they would have shown more of a reaction. But all that we’re told is that the Spirit of God rushed upon David, Samuel rose up and went to Ramah and, according to verse 19, David simply returned to tending sheep. No party. No celebration. No celebratory pats on the back. But while it may appear that all things remained the same, one thing was radically different.

The Spirit of God rushed upon David. God placed His Spirit upon this young shepherd boy, radically altering his life, just as He had done with Saul. After Saul had been anointed king by Samuel, he had been given specific instructions and was told, “this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage” (1 Samuel 10:1 ESV). The prophet sent Saul on what can best be described as a sort of scavenger hunt, where he would encounter a variety of people along the way and receive various clues, that would eventually lead him to the city of Gibeath-elohim.

And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. – 1 Samuel 10:5-6 ESV

Saul had received the Spirit of God as well. But with the anointing of David as his replacement, Saul would have the Spirit of God removed from him. “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him” (1 Samuel 16:14 ESV). Saul retained the crown, the symbol of his reign, but He lost the power to rule. With the removal of the Spirit of God, he “turned into another man” again, but this time, not for the better. Without the abiding presence of God’s Spirit, Saul was left to his own fleshly, sinful self. And he was left open to the influence of Satan. We are not told the nature or source of the “harmful spirit” that tormented Saul, but it is clear that God, in His sovereign plan, allowed this spirit to come upon Saul.

“Saul’s evil bent was by the permission and plan of God. We must realize that in the last analysis all penal consequences come from God, as the Author of the moral law and the one who always does what is right.” – Gleason L. Archer Jr., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 180.

It was the presence of this evil spirit that set up David’s transition from the pasture to the palace. He would go from shepherding sheep to serving as the king’s personal servant. And King Saul loved David. What an ironic scene. Here was David, the newly anointed king of Israel, serving as the personal valet to the man he was supposed to replace. At this point, Saul has no clue as to David’s anointing by Samuel. And David seems to be ignorant of the fact that he might be in any kind of danger. Which leads one to believe that he had no clue that Samuel’s anointing had been to make him the next king of Israel. I think David’s awareness of what was happening in his life would happen over time. He would gradually put the pieces together and recognize that he had been chosen by God to be the next king. But in the meantime, his life would never be the same again.

He and King Saul would have a love-hate relationship. There would be moments of genuine affection coupled with inexplicable periods of terrifying hatred and life-threatening anger. Saul’s temperament would be all over the map. His psychological condition would grow progressively worse, as David’s popularity and fame increased. And yet, all of this was part of God’s plan for David’s life. God could have simply removed Saul and replaced him with David. He could have made this an immediate and hassle-free transition plan, but He didn’t. David was going to discover that his road to the throne was to be a rocky one. His anointing by God, whether he understood the full import of it or not, was not going to mean that his life would be easy or trouble-free. Had the prophet sat down with David and given him a full description of what the next years of his life would entail, he might have decided to return to the sheep for good. God’s calling is not a guarantee of the good life. Abraham’s calling by God was accompanied by much sacrifice, years of disappointment, and a constant requirement to live by faith, not sight. Moses was called by God, but faced constant danger, rejection, doubt and questions about his leadership ability. The disciples were called by God, but were also told by Jesus, “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:17-18 ESV). Jesus went on to tell them,  “and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 ESV).

David was in for a wild ride. He had the anointing of God, but now he was to receive the equipping of God. He had the Spirit, but the Spirit was out to have all of him. He was a man after God’s own heart, but now God was going to give David a heart like His.

Calling Out the Called Out.

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 ESV

Paul began this letter as he had most of his others. First, he introduces himself. This was not because they did not know him. He had actually lived among them for 18 months after he had helped found the church there on one of his missionary journeys. Paul’s point in re-introducing himself was to establish his calling as an apostle of God. This will become an important factor as his letter unfolds.

Paul was cordial, even complimentary, in his greeting to the believers in Corinth. But there was a subtle, underlying purpose behind his words. He referred to them as “the church of God in Corinth.” This too will prove to have a purpose behind it. Paul wanted them to understand that they belonged to God and no one else. He was preparing the way to deal with a problem of division that had made its way into the church there. Paul also referred to them as “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and “saints.” Paul used two words, ἁγιάζω (hagiazō) and ἅγιος (hagios) to describe the believers in Corinth. First of all, at salvation they had been set apart as God and dedicated for His purposes. They belonged to Him. And this made them saints, or set-apart ones (“G37 – hagiazō, G40 – hagios – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). They no longer belonged to themselves or to this world. And yet, as Paul would eventually point out in his letter, they were not living up to their calling as saints. Their actions were not reflecting their set-apartness.

Paul’s emphasis in the opening of his letter was on God. He even thanked God for all He had done in bringing the Corinthians to faith. It had been God who had extended His grace to them by making the good news of Jesus Christ known to them. The “testimony about Christ was confirmed” among them (1 Corinthians 1:6 ESV) as they came to faith in Christ and had their lives radically transformed. The believers there in Corinth had received the gift of the Holy Spirit and, along with Him, the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, Paul said that they were “not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7 ESV). God had been good to them. He had called them and He would be faithful to them as He continued His work among them. He would sustain them to the end. The problem, Paul seems to be saying, was not with God, but with them. It was the Corinthians who were proving to be unfaithful. They had lost their focus. They had lost sight of their unique standing as God’s holy people. The calling of God on their lives had taken a back seat to their own selfish agendas and worldly outlooks on life. They were missing the point.

Paul was preparing to deal harshly with his readers. He was setting them up so that he might call them out. He was not going to tolerate their behavior. The honor of God and the integrity of the gospel was at stake. Their behavior was not in keeping with their status as God’s chosen people. Rather than living as set apart and distinctive from the world around them, they were allowing themselves to blend in and take on the ungodly characteristics of the society in which they lived. Their professed beliefs and practical behavior did not seem to match. There was a disconnect between their faith and their daily practice. Their spiritual talk and their daily walk were in conflict. So Paul started his letter reminding them of who they were and to whom they belonged. Paul will remind them a little later on in this same letter, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV). 

Paul was about to call out the called out ones. He was going to sit down the set-apart ones and give them a piece of his mind – in love. He would not tolerate their actions or excuse their sinful attitudes. God had sacrificed His Son on their behalf. He had paid a high price for their salvation and Paul was not willing to sit back and watch them waste God’s grace or bring shame to His name. It was essential that their profession of faith show up in their walk and talk. Their conduct needed to match their confession. Their status as sons and daughters of God was to be reflected in their actions and attitudes.

Called to Stand Out.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV

Futile minds. Darkened understandings. Alienated from God. Ignorant. Hardened hearts. Callous. Slaves to sensuality. Greedy for more impurity.

Paul doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture of the condition of those outside of Christ. But his purpose seems to be less about exposing the sinful nature of the lost, than about reminding the Ephesian believers of their pre-conversion state. Prior to coming to faith in Christ, they had been in the same condition: Lost and alienated from God. Verse 17 is directly linked to verse one of this same chapter. Paul opened up the chapter by telling them, “I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Now he is telling them how not to walk. As we have seen before, the Greek word translated “walk” is περιπατέω (peripateō) and it meant “to make one’s way, progress” and was most often used by Paul to refer to living life. Paul was encouraging the believers in the church of Ephesus to live their lives differently, because they had been called by God. Rather than living selfish, self-gratifying lives like they did before, they were to conduct themselves in such a way that it honored the One who had called them and restore them to a right relationship with Himself.

Paul’s emphasis on his readers’ previous lost condition was intended to emphasize their supernatural calling by God. In their lost state, their minds were a big part of the problem. Without Christ, their minds were futile, which in the Greek meant “devoid of truth and appropriateness.” Their understanding was darkened. In other words, their thoughts, feelings and desires were “covered with darkness.” That is why the apostle John opened his gospel with the words, “In Him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5 NASB). Without God’s help, men were incapable of seeing the Light. They were covered in and blinded by darkness. Like a person trapped in a dark room who suddenly finds himself exposed to the daylight, their eyes are incapable of seeing clearly and distinctly. Their eyes are so accustomed to darkness that the light is painful to them. John goes on to say, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him” (John 1:8-9 NASB).

Paul went on to say that his readers were at one time “alienated from the life of God.” The Greek word Paul used means to “shut out from one’s fellowship and intimacy” (“G526 – apallotrioō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).”” Blue Letter Bible). They had not concept of what it meant to know God or have a relationship with Him. It was King David who wrote:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
    there is none who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one. – Psalm 14:1-3 ESV

No one was truly seeking God. They might have been searching for their particular version of God, but they were incapable of seeing or comprehending the one true God. That is why, as Paul writes in Romans, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23 ESV). And Paul makes it clear to the Ephesians that their former alienation from God had been the result of their own ignorance and hardness of heart. The ignorance Paul speaks of is not just a lack of knowledge, but a moral blindness. And that, coupled with their hardened hearts, rendered them incapable of knowing God or His truth. Their perceptions had been dulled and their minds, blunted. As a result, they found themselves addicted to sensuality and insatiably drawn to more and more impurity. 

And Paul’s point seems to be that no one who finds themselves in that condition chooses to seek after God or has the mental wherewithal to choose Christ. No one with a darkened, hardened, futile mind would naturally seek what God has offered to them in Christ. It would make no sense. Which is why Paul told the Corinthian believers, “when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense” (1 Corinthians 1:23 NLT). Paul told the Ephesians, “that is not the way you learned Christ!” In other words, they had not come to a knowledge of Jesus through their own human thinking. They learned Jesus through what Paul called “the foolishness of preaching.”

God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT

It had been the proclamation of the Word of God and the regenerating power of the Spirit of God that had made the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ comprehensible to them. Paul reminded them that “the truth is in Jesus.” And that truth called for them to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NLT). Their old natures were corrupt and deceived. Their new natures, provided to them by the indwelling Holy Spirit were capable of new thoughts, attitudes and actions. They were to walk in a manner worthy of their calling – holy, set apart, distinctively different, empowered by the Spirit and in keeping with the will of God. Change is non-optional for believers. Spiritual transformation is not up to us to choose or reject – at least, and not truly be a child of God. Our new natures should crave and desire the things of God. We should want what He wants for us: holiness and righteousness. And our new natures, lived within the context of the body of Christ, should produce a new community that is unlike anything the world has ever seen. Called and committed believers, powered by the Spirit of God and living as brothers and sisters in Christ, should form “a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21 ESV). Our lives, lived together in unity, should prove to the world that the gospel is true and that reconciliation with God brings reconciliation with others.