1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. – Ephesians 4:1-10 ESVNotagain!2018
So, in the last post, we looked at whether God finds satisfaction with the degree of our sanctification. And, to some of our shock and amazement, we discovered that God does not require more from us. Our sanctification, like our justification, was made complete through the finished work of Christ on the cross. He blood cleansed us from all unrighteousness and established us as holy in the eyes of God. If I died today, I would find myself in His presence. There would be no further sanctification required of me. I would not be damaged goods in need of further purification or requiring additional proof of my holiness. My right standing with God is based on the righteousness of Christ, which was imputed to me – in full – when I placed my faith in Him as my Savior.
But, as we saw in yesterday’s post, my status as a sanctified saint, made righteous and acceptable to God by the blood of Christ, does not mean there is nothing left us to do. Paul clearly demands that we “pursue…the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NASB). He told Timothy to “pursue righteousness” (1 Timothy 6:11 ESV) and the Ephesian church to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (2 Timothy 2:22 ESV).
So, it is clear that God still expects His chosen ones, who have set apart by Him, to live lives that reflect their status as His children. They are to behave differently. Their righteous standing is to show up in practical, visible ways. But it is essential that we understand that the pursuit of righteousness of which Paul speaks is not a call to increase our righteousness. He is not suggesting that we are deficient or lacking in righteousness. No, he is calling us to live out or exhibit our new nature, provided for us by Christ and made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
It is not about earning, but about expressing. It is not about adding to but about living out. Look at the passage from Ephesians 4. It starts out with a call to imitate God. That sounds impossible and implausible, doesn’t it? But notice how Paul qualifies that statement: “As beloved children.” As followers of Christ, we have been united with Him and have become sons and daughters of God, adopted into His family and made joint-heirs with Christ.
For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. – Romans 8:16-17 NLT
As God’s children, we have been given new natures and have the capacity to reflect His glory through our lives. When we live in submission to the Spirit and in obedience to the will of God, we bring Him glory. And that is what Paul is trying to tell the Ephesian believers and, by extension, us.
Paul tells them to “walk in love,” emulating the very same love that Jesus expressed to them. God showed His love for them by sending His Son to die for them. Jesus showed His love by sacrificing His life for them. And Paul was calling them to love in the same way, imitating both the Father and the Son.
The in verses 3-8, Paul takes a negative turn, expressing all the things the Ephesians were to avoid if they wanted to imitate God. Notice that all these things are illustrations of unholiness. They are the actions of the unsanctified, those who have not been set apart by God and who are still slaves to sin and unrighteousness. The list is dark and depressing, including such things as sexual immorality, all impurity, and covetousness. But then Paul adds a few seemingly innocuous things such as filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking. Filthiness has to do with that which is obscene or shameful. Foolish talk is a reference to morally flippant conversation that has no regard for God. It is the talk of fools. Psalm 14:1 states, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.” The fool’s conversation flows from his heart, where God has been dethroned and self reigns supreme. Crude joking refers to those clever-sounding things that make others laugh, but that are actually vulgar and lacking any moral boundaries.
Paul associates these seemingly innocent actions with the sexually immoral, the impure, and the coveteousness. They are the unrighteous fruit of the ungodly and the unsanctified. Then Paul drops the bombshell:
…everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. – Ephesians 5:5 ESV
Those who are unsanctified, having refused to accept the gift of salvation made possible by the death of God’s Son, remain separated from Him. They are still dead in their trespasses and sins, lacking the indwelling presence of the Spirit, and are devoid of the righteousness of Christ. And, as a result, they have no place in the kingdom of Christ and God. They have no access into the presence of God. They face the wrath of God because they are the sons of disobedience. They are the descendants of Adam and have inherited his sin nature and the penalty of death that sin deserves.
When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT
And Paul clarifies that the sons of disobedience, those people who remain separated from God because of their sin, are people of the earth. They have not been made new. Their natures remain unredeemed and their status before God remains unsanctified.
Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. – 1 Corinthians 15:47-48 NLT
And Paul warns the Ephesians believers to “not become partners” with these people. Remember, Paul opened this chapter with the words “imitate God.” And God cannot and will not associate with ungodliness. The unholy and unrighteous have no place in the presence of God. Now, Paul is not telling the Ephesians to refuse contact with unbelievers. He is calling them to live as those who have been set apart. Their lives were not to emulate or mimic the lost. Paul clarifies his point in his letter to the church in Corinth.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. – 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 ESV
Paul was demanding godly behavior from the godly. He was expecting those who had been sanctified to live as what they were. Paul makes it clear that something had changed in their lives. At one time, the Ephesian believers had been living in darkness, separated from God because of their sin. Paul reminds them, “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8 ESV). Don’t miss that little phrase, “but now you are.” It is essential to understand what Paul is saying. He does not say, “but by now you should be.” He doesn’t tell them “you should be becoming.” No, he states, “but now you are.” And what are they? Children of light. And their lives should reflect their new identity and their Spirit-enabled capacity to live in the light.
And Paul reveals that “the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:9 ESV). Living as children of light requires that our lives exhibit the fruit of light: that which consists of goodness, righteousness, and truth. And it is possible because we possess the light of Christ. The apostle John reminds us that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). And he goes on to say, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV). Children of light walk in the light of God, casting His shadow on the world around them. Their lives reflect the fruit of righteousness, the fruit of the Spirit, and the fruit of the light. And their lives not only please God, but they also bring glory to God, because He is the sole reason they can produce what is good, right, and true.
And it was his knowledge of that wonderful truth that led Paul to express this heart-felt prayer on behalf of the believers in Colossae.
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:9-14 ESV
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.