Grieving Rather Than Growing

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV

Paul wanted the Ephesians believers to live in the present and not the past. They were to embrace their new identity in Christ and to to consider the deceptions and lies that had characterized their former lives as dead and discarded. Those things had been “put away” (apotithēmi) or “cast off,” and replaced by the truth of the gospel. And because they had been equipped by the apostles,  prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers God had provided, they were able to build up the body of Christ by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 5:11-15).

As members of the body of Christ, they were to dwell together in a spirit of mutual love that was based on the reality of the life-transforming power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Their lives were to be characterized by truth and not lies. There was no place in the family of God for deception or falsehood. Christianity was not to be a competitive sport or a comparative religion where spiritual  status was measured by merit or social standing. It was to be a community of undeserving recipients of God’s grace, who had been filled with His Spirit, and equipped with spiritual gifts intended for the good of whole body.

He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. – Ephesians 4:16 NLT

What Paul describes in verses 25-32 is a lifestyle of radical change. The characteristics that marked their old lives were to be done away with. Lying, anger, stealing, and abusive language had no place within the body of Christ. And the Ephesians were not the only congregation to have received that message from Paul. He penned the very same sentiment to the believers in Colossae.

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. – Colossians 3:8-10 NLT

Paul used comparative language to make his point to the Ephesian church. Rather than lie, they were to tell the truth. Instead of allowing anger to consume them, they were to resolve their disagreements quickly. Those who had once made a living from theft were to earn their way and share their resources with others. Foul and hurtful language was to be replaced with words that were helpful and encouraging. Again, Paul was calling them to do an about-face, to make a radical change in their behavior that reflected the revolutionary alteration God had made to their nature.

For Paul, a believer whose life failed to reflect the change brought about by the saving work of Jesus Christ was an anomaly and an unacceptable probability. That is why he continually stressed his expectation of tangible transformation in the lives of those to whom he ministered. .

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. – Philippians 2:1-4 NLT

According to Paul, not only would failure to experience life transformation result in a lack of fruit and effectiveness, it would also end up bringing sorrow to the Spirit of God.

…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. – Ephesians 4:30 ESV

One of the primary roles of the Holy Spirit is to empower and equip the believer for a life of godliness. It is the Spirit who makes possible the believer’s sanctification or growth in Christ-likeness. So, when a believer fails to experience or exhibit life change, it grieves (lypeō) or saddens the Spirit of God. His greatest desire is to continually transform the believer into the image of Christ. The Spirit is a permanent resident in the life of every believer and will accompany them all the way to their ultimate glorification. He acts as God’s seal of approval, ensuring that the believer’s future status as a citizen of the coming kingdom is assured. Or, as Paul put it to the church in Corinth, the Holy Spirit is our guarantee of all that is to come.

It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us. – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT

…we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5;4-5 NLT

And Paul shared this incredible news with the Ephesians as well.

The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. – Ephesians 1:14 NLT

That’s why Paul insists that the Spirit would be grieved by their failure to submit to His  life-transforming power. While glorification is the ultimate outcome of the believer’s faith in Christ, God wants to begin the process in this life. That’s why Paul insists that their present conduct should reflect a hope in the promise of their future state. They have the Spirit of God within them and the power of God available to them. So, their lives should reflect that reality even now. Paul would have fully agreed with the words of the apostle Peter:

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. – 2 Peter 1:3 NLT

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Live Like Who You Are

17 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. 18 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. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV

Paul has made perfectly clear his expectation of the Ephesian believers. They were to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV). He was demanding that they display the kind of maturity that accompanies faith in Christ. Through the efforts of faithful apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, they had been equipped to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11). And they were to busy about “building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV), so that  each of them might increase in maturity and no longer respond like gullible and easily manipulated children.

And this led Paul to call the Ephesians to put their pasts behind them. They were no longer to live according to their former standards or reflect their old way of life.

Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. – Ephesians 4:17 NLT

Here, Paul is referring to those who outside the family of God. His use of the term, “Gentiles” is meant to include all those who have failed to place their faith in Christ. Many within the congregation to which Paul was writing were actually Gentiles or non-Jews. But his point was that even those who were considered Gentiles before coming to faith in Christ, were now members of God’s family. They had been adopted as His sons and daughters and were His beloved children. And, as such, they were expected to live out their new identity as rightful heirs of the kingdom of God.

Paul was declaring that their new relationship with God should reflect a new allegiance that manifested itself in a new form of behavior. And the apostle Peter promoted this radical change in lifestyle as well.

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. – 1 Peter 1:14-15 NLT

Notice the words that Paul uses to describe their former state as non-believers: Futile, darkened, alienated, ignorant, hardhearted, callous, sensual, greedy, and impure. Not exactly a flattering list of characteristics. But Paul isn’t emphasizing visible manifestations of outward behavior. He is stressing a way of life that begins in the heart and  flows out in tangible expressions of life change.

There is a link between verse 1 and verse 17 of chapter four. In both verses, Paul uses the Greek word peripateō, which can mean “to walk” or “to live one’s life.” In verse one, Paul urged the Ephesians to “walk (peripateō) in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Then, in verse 17, he states, “you must no longer walk (peripateō) as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”

Essentially, Paul was telling the Ephesians that it was impossible to do both at the same time. You can’t simultaneously lead a life worthy of your calling and live hopelessly confused like the Gentiles do. It had to be one way or the other, and it was time for the Ephesians to make up their mind which way would characterize their lives. There was a real temptation for those Gentiles within the church in Ephesus to fall back into their old way of living. They were constantly surrounded by friends and family members outside the body of Christ whose behavior reflected their former lifestyle. And it was very tempting to look back on their pre-conversion life and view it through rose-colored glasses. But Paul wants them to see their past as what it was: Dark and far from hopeful. He reminds them that their lost neighbors are hopeless and helpless, trapped in an endless cycle of sin with no way of escape.

Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. – Ephesians 4:18-19 NLT

But the Ephesians knew better. Their eyes had been opened to the truth and their hardened hearts had been softened by the regenerating work of the Spirit of God.

…he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior… – Titus 3:5-6 NLT

They had been transformed from sinners into saints, from enemies of God into His beloved sons and daughters. And they were no longer trapped in darkness and blinded to reality of their own sin and their desperate need for a Savior.

…he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 NLT

So, in keeping with their new status as God’s children, Paul commands them to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception” (Ephesians 4:22 NLT). They were to treat their former way of life like an old filthy garment and discard it. But removal of their old nature was not enough. It needed to be replaced with something better.

Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:24 NLT

And Paul expands on this spiritual wardrobe change in his letter to the church in Colossae.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. – Colossians 3:5-10 NLT

Out with the old, in with the new. That’s the gist of Paul is saying. The new lifestyle that God had made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son was to be far from business-as-usual. By redeeming the Ephesians believers, God had spared them from the judgment to come. Their sins had been forgiven and their eternal life had been secured for them by Christ. And the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God was meant to act as a guarantee that God’s future promises would be fulfilled just as He had said. That’s why Paul encourages the Ephesians to “let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes” (Ephesians 4:23 NLT). Their ongoing transformation would be the work of the Spirit of God, not just the result of their own human effort.

When Paul speaks of putting off and putting on, he is not suggesting that the individual  believer has control over their own sanctification. He is not laying the heavy weight of spiritual maturity on the shoulders of the saints. But he is suggesting that they have a role to play. They must willingly submit to the Spirit’s leading as He lovingly guides their steps. That is why Paul used that Greek word, peripateō when addressing the believer’s relationship with the Spirit of God.

But I say, walk (peripateō) by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.   – Galatians 5:16 ESV

In other words, the believer is to live their life in accordance with the Spirit’s leading. And Paul goes on to explain how every Christian has a daily to choice to either live according to the desires of their old nature or in obedience to the Spirit of God.

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other – Galatians 5:17 NLT

By submitting to the Spirit, the believer experiences the ongoing renovation of their thoughts and attitudes. They see things differently. They think about things in a whole new way. Their perspective changes. Their outlook on life takes on a whole new light because they no longer live shrouded in a veil of darkness. They are new creations and they should act like. They have new natures and their lives should reflect that reality. They are sons and daughters of God and their lives should bring glory to their heavenly Father.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

A Spiritual Wake-Up Call

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:9-16 ESV

In an attempt to encourage the Ephesian believers, Paul paraphrased a verse from one of King David’s psalms.

You ascended on high,
    leading a host of captives in your train
    and receiving gifts among men… – Psalm 68:18 ESV

As a former Pharisee and a student of the Hebrew scriptures, Paul knew that this passage was written by David as a praise song to God, thanking Him for His divine assistance against Israel’s many enemies. In verse 18 of David’s psalm, he describes gifts being given to God as an expression of gratitude and praise for His divine intervention in their military affairs. But Paul takes this Old Testament passage and repurposes it to drive home his point about God having given the gift of grace to all who believe in His Son (Ephesians 4:7).

“Paul made a valid application of Christological significance to the Old Testament passage. On the one hand, according to Psalm 68:18, God ascended Zion as a victorious king worthy of being the recipient of gifts of homage. On the other hand, according to Ephesians 4:8, Jesus also ascended to the heavenly Zion as the victorious Lord who lovingly bestowed on His church the gifts of ministry essential to her future well-being.” – Bibliotheca Sacra 148:591 (July-September 1991):335-36

In Paul’s application of this verse to the Ephesian context, he portrays Jesus as the one who, having accomplished a mighty victory over the enemy, ascended back into heaven. But rather than receiving gifts from men, Jesus poured out the gift of the Spirit on His church. This gracious outpouring of the Spirit resulted in the provision of divinely-enabled gifts to assist the church in its ministry. Paul mentions just a few of those gifts in verse 11 and explains their purpose.

…he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV

In his other letters, Paul provided a series of lists that contain other gifts provided to the church. They include the speaking gifts such as apostleship, prophecy, teaching, evangelism, exhortation, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. But he also lists gifts of service that include leadership, helps, mercy, giving, faith, healing, and miracles. Paul fully believed that Jesus had provided His church with everything it needed to not only survive but thrive.

Paul was reminding his readers that Jesus, the Son of God, had descended from on high and taken on the role of a lowly servant. He had left His rightful place at His Father’s side and chosen to take on the form of a man. Paul eloquently described the “descent” of Jesus in his letter to the church in Philippi.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
   he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

And as a result of His incarnation and crucifixion, God raised Jesus from the dead and “elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:9 NLT). And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and equip His followers with the power to use their God-ordained gifts and display the fruits of a righteous life – all so that the body of Christ might be built up or edified. In his letter to Timothy, Paul described the church as the household of God and “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NLT). Jesus poured out gifts on the church so that all of its members might be adequately taught and prepared to carry out His mission on earth.

And, according to Paul, the goal of this “work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV) is the spiritual maturity of every believer. It will continue unabated and uninterrupted until “we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). This is a lofty and seemingly impossible goal. But Paul’s point is that it is the work of the Spirit, not the flesh. God sent His Son so that sinful humanity might be restored to a right relationship with Him. But Jesus sent the Spirit so that redeemed men and women might have the power they needed to experience the full potentiality of their new nature. Their spiritual transformation was to be ongoing and evidenced by an ever-increasing capacity to thrive in a hostile and often harmful earthly environment. 

In verse 14, Paul telegraphs where he is headed with this line of reasoning. He is preparing his readers to receive a stern but loving lecture regarding false teachers. And he does so by reminding them that their ongoing spiritual maturity is both non-optional and extremely vital. When the members of Christ’s body are growing effectively, they “will no longer be immature like children…tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching,” and they won’t be easily deceived by those who try to trick them “with lies so clever they sound like the truth” (Ephesians 4:14 NLT).

This was all intended as a set-up for Paul’s main point. He is preparing the Ephesian believers to receive his not-so-flattering assessment of their current spiritual condition. In a sense, Paul is describing them as immature children who are being tossed about by every wind of new teaching. Rather than growing up in their salvation, they have remained like helpless and defenseless children who lack discretion and discipline.

According to Paul’s assessment, the Ephesian church was not where it needed to be spiritually. The leaders of the church were not effectively doing their job of equipping “God’s people to do his work” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And, as a result, God’s people were not edifying one another and strengthening the body of Christ. Paul calls them to course correct, demanding that they “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT). They needed to express their love for one another by being honest in their assessment of one another. There is a sense in which love must be hard and unforgiving, pointing out the flaws and failings of one another so that the body of Christ might be healthy and whole. Paul is recommending the truth found in Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” He is echoing the sentiment expressed by King David in another one of his psalms.

Let the righteous man strike me; let his rebuke be an act of loving devotion. It is oil for my head; let me not refuse it.

Paul’s heartfelt desire was that the Ephesians would experience all the gifts that Christ had poured out on their behalf. He wanted them to experience the unity that Christ had died to make possible. He longed for them to display the spiritual maturity that the Spirit made available. And he prayed continually that their lives would reflect the character of Christ that God’s grace had made attainable. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no reason for the Ephesians to be living in doubt, fear, immaturity, disunity, or impurity. God had provided everything they needed. He had done His part. He had sent His Son and His Son had sent the Spirit. Now, it was up to them to live out what God had ordained for them.

He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. – Ephesians 4:16 NLT

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Unifying Power of Faith

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.” Ephesians 4:1-8 ESV

Since Paul has asked that God will strengthen the Ephesians “with power through his Spirit” in their inner being (Ephesians 3:16), he now calls on them to exhibit the reality of that power in their daily lives. If Christ dwells in their hearts through faith and they are rooted and grounded in the love of God (Ephesians 3:17), then they should be willing to pursue a lifestyle that reflects their new identity and Spirit-empowered ability to live like Christ.

At this point in his letter, Paul is calling on his readers to become who they already are in Christ. In other words, their beliefs should begin to show up in the form of radically changed behavior. They had been transformed through their faith in Christ. What was true of the Corinthian believers was true for the Ephesians as well.

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

And the Ephesians had the same capacity to live set-apart and distinctively different lives just as the believers in Rome did.

For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. – Romans 6:4 NLT

Paul doesn’t hesitate to use his imprisonment as a form of not-so-subtle coercion. He reminds them once again that he is “a prisoner for the Lord” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV) and, as he made clear in chapter three, his imprisonment had been for their benefit (Ephesians 3:1). In a sense, Paul is saying, “You owe me!” But all the payback Paul desired was in the form of their altered behavior. He begged them to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV).

The Greek word translated as “walk” is peripateō, and it means “to make one’s way, progress, to conduct one’s life.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “lead a life worthy of your calling.”

Paul was exhorting his audience to live their lives differently, in keeping with their new relationship with Christ. Because of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence, they had the capacity to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19 ESV). The Spirit could help them grow in their knowledge of God and better grasp the significance of the love He had poured out on them. Their growing recognition of and appreciation for God’s great love should produce in them a desire to live in keeping with His will for their lives. And Paul leaves nothing up to their imaginations but clearly delineates what kind of character qualities their lives should reflect: humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity, and peace. Basically, Paul describes the character of Christ.

Paul’s reason for outlining these Christ-like character qualities is that he knows the Ephesians are struggling with the concept of unity. They were a house divided. Their relatively new congregation consisted of both Jews and Gentiles, and there was a natural animosity between these two groups. But Paul wanted them to understand that they had been unified by the shed blood of Christ. And because of having placed their faith in Jesus, the Gentile converts were “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6 ESV). The Jewish believers were not superior or to be considered super-spiritual because of their designation as sons of Abraham. Yes, they had been set apart as God’s chosen people and bore the sign of circumcision, but that did not guarantee them a right standing with God. They were just as guilty of rebellion against God as the Gentiles and could only be restored to a right relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. It was just as Paul told the believers in Rome.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:28-29 NLT

Palu stressed to the Ephesians believers that there was “one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call” (Ephesians 4:4 ESV). The Jews didn’t have a special dispensation or enjoy elite status as God’s people. They too had been required to place their faith in Christ and, as a result, had enjoyed the gift of the Holy Spirit. And it was the indwelling presence of the Spirit that was proof or evidence that they had been accepted by God and placed within the body of Christ, the church.

In the book of Acts, Luke records an occasion when Peter was sent by God to the home of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. He was a Gentile who had come to believe in Yahweh, the God of the Jews. Cornelius received a vision from God commanding him to send for a man named Simon Peter. The very next day, Peter received his own vision from God, in which a sheet descended from heaven containing all kinds of unclean animals, all of which the Mosaic Law prohibited the Jews from eating. But in his vision, Peter heard a voice from heaven commanding him to “kill and eat them” (Acts 10:13 NLT). When Peter refused to do so, the voice cried out, “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean” (Acts 10:15 NLT). As if for emphasis, this vision appeared to Peter three separate times, leaving him perplexed and conflicted. And as Peter wrestled over the meaning of the visions, the servants of Cornelius knocked at his door.

These men shared with Peter the message that God had given Cornelius. It was then that Peter understood the meaning of his own perplexing vision.

“You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. – Acts 10:28 NLT

So, Peter accompanied the men back to Caesarea, where he met with Cornelius and his household. Peter told them, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:34-36 NLT).

And Peter recalled how Jesus had gone “around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38 NLT), but was eventually put to death by the Jews. But He rose again on the third day and appeared to His disciples, giving them explicit instructions as to what they were to do in His absence.

“…he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.” – Acts 10:42-43 NLT

And, even as Peter spoke these words to the Gentiles gathered in the home of Cornelius, something remarkable happened.

…the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God.

Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. – Acts 10:44-48 NLT

Peter learned an invaluable lesson that day. God had opened up the door to the formerly unclean and unchosen Gentiles. They too could receive a new relationship with the God of the Israelites through placing their faith in Jesus Christ. And, when they did, they became adopted sons and daughters of God and received all the amazing benefits made possible through the atoning work of Jesus.

Paul wanted the Ephesians, both Jews and Gentiles, to understand that they all shared “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6 ESV). They had all been saved by grace, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV).

Every one of the Ephesian believers had formerly been a prisoner of sin, held captive by the power of Satan. But they had been set free by the atoning work of Jesus Christ and now shared one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. When Jesus ascended back up to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all those who placed their faith in Him. And it was the gift of the Spirit that made possible the life of faith to which Paul was calling the Ephesians. They had everything they needed to walk in newness of life and in a manner worthy of their calling.

The Gentile believers in Ephesus were just as saved as the Jewish believers, and fully capable of living like Christ. The apostle Peter would have described them as “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1 ESV). And he would have assured them that they possessed everything they need to live godly lives, even in an ungodly world.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. – 2 Peter 1:3 NLT

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Offending the Spirit.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:30-32 ESV

The Holy Spirit lives within each and every believer. At the point of conversion, He takes up permanent residence, indwelling them, baptizing them into the family of God, and filling them with the power they need to live the life they have been called to live. Both His indwelling and baptizing are one-time events, never to happen again. But His filling is to be an ongoing, often-replicated event. In fact, the tense of the Greek word Paul uses in Ephesians 5:18, carries with it the idea of continuous, ongoing action – “keep on being filled”. The indwelling of the Spirit does not guarantee the filling of the Spirit. He does fill us at salvation, but that can quickly change. In telling the believer to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18, Paul uses the comparison of being drunk with wine. To be intoxicated with wine is to allow oneself to come under the influence of the alcohol. It takes over control of the individual’s speech and conduct. It alters thinking patterns and drastically influences behavior. Paul’s point is that, when under the control of the Spirit, the same things should happen. His presence in us should result in His control over us. That is what it means to be filled. We end up under his influence, His control. And He changes our speech, behavior, and thinking.

But Paul reminds us that we can grieve the Spirit. How do we do that? Through sinful behavior that is not in keeping with His agenda for our lives. It happens each and every time we take back control of our lives and live them according to our old sinful nature. Placing our faith in Christ did not immediately eradicate our sin nature. It remains alive and well, a constant and pervasive presence in our lives. Paul described it this way: “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:17 ESV). Sin dwells in the believer in the form of our flesh or sin nature. And it craves to live in disobedience to God, satisfying its own selfish and  sensual desires. It tempts us to do those things that are not in keeping with God’s will for our lives. “For this is God’s will: that you become holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NET). Our sin nature despises holiness. It prefers self-love, self-reliance, self-indulgence, self-protection, self-centeredness and a host of other self-related sins. That’s why Paul says we are to avoid bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. Notice that these are all other-oriented sins. They are directed at others – specifically at fellow believers. And when we commit them, we grieve the Spirit. In actuality, we offend Him. He has been commissioned by God to bring about our sanctification, our transformation into the likeness of His Son. So when we sin, particularly against our brothers and sisters in Christ, we offend the Spirit. We prevent Him from doing what He was sent to do.

Earlier in chapter four, Paul warned his readers, “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV). He describes these unbelieving Gentiles in very clear terms. “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!” (Ephesians 4:19-20 ESV). Notice the phrase, “given themselves up to”. They were under the influence of sin. But Paul says that is not to be the way with us. We are to be under the influence of the Spirit. We didn’t learn Christ or become aware of His salvation through selfishness and sensuality. And we will not become more holy through those things either. Paul tells us to put off our old selves “which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22 ESV). Instead, he reminds us “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:24-25 NLT).

This is a daily, ongoing choice we must make. We can choose to be led by the Spirit in every part of our lives, or we can choose to listen to our selfish, sensual old nature. We can make it all about us or we can make it all about God’s will for us – our holiness. That is why Paul warns us, “Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another” (Galatians 5:26 NLT). As soon as self enters into the scene, things begin to get dicey. The self and the Spirit can’t both be in control at the same time. When self raises its ugly head, the Holy Spirit takes a back seat. He doesn’t leave us, but we lose His influence over us. And when we do, nothing good comes out of it. Not only do we end up grieving and offending the Spirit within us, we do harm to all of those around us. On top of that, we stall and stagnate our own sanctification process. We must constantly remain aware of our potential for doing great damage to the cause of Christ and the Spirit’s commission to transform us into the image of Christ. As soon as self raises its ugly head, we must confess it and ask the Spirit to take over control of our lives again. We must constantly submit ourselves to His control. That will require giving up our control. It will demand that we release the grip we have on our own agendas for our lives. We can’t make ourselves more holy – only the Spirit can do that. Let’s learn to rely on Him, lean on Him, listen to Him and relinquish control of our lives over to Him.

Ephesians 4:17-32

New, Not New and Improved.

Ephesians 4:17-32

Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:23-24 NLT

Jesus Christ didn’t die on the cross so that you could enjoy a slightly new-and-improved version of the old you. And yet, that’s exactly the view held by a lot believers today. The term used to explain this version of salvation is “behavior modification.” It basically means that by coming to faith in Christ, we have been given a capacity to change the way we live by making a few alterations to our daily habits and attitudes. The formula goes something like this: More good behavior + less bad behavior = holiness. So we try to stop doing some things and start doing others things – all in the hope that it will make us more acceptable to God. But Paul pulls on the emergency break when it comes to that kind of mindset. Why? Because it’s unbiblical and not helpful. Yes, he tells us to “throw off our old sinful nature and your former way of life,” which sounds a whole lot like removing bad behavior. Then he tells us to “put on your new nature,” which sounds like he’s recommending that we add some good behavior. Paul goes on to give a pretty comprehensive list of things to STOP doing. Stop telling lies. Stop letting anger control you. Stop going to bed angry. Stop stealing. Stop using foul or abusive language. Stop grieving the Holy Spirit with the way you live. Stop being bitter, raging, using harsh words, and slandering one another. As a matter of fact, stop all types of evil behavior.

But is Paul simply giving us a list of things to stop doing? Is it all up to us? Is he providing us with some helpful self-improvement tips for a better and more holy life? I don’t think so. Paul is reminding the Ephesians that a life in Christ is a life marked by incredible change, both inside and out. Our new life in Christ should be characterized by new behaviors. We have been given a new nature by God that is designed to be like Him – holy and righteous. Lying, stealing, slandering, hating, cursing – all reflect our old nature. So when they show up, they are evidence that we are living according to our old nature and not our new one. Those things are not godly, holy or righteous. But when we live under the influence of our new, God-given nature, the results are markedly different. Rather than stealing, or taking what doesn’t belong to us, we will work hard and give generously to others. Rather than allow words that abuse and tear down to come from our lips, we will say those things that are good, helpful, and encouraging. Instead of grieving the Holy Spirit by living according to our old nature, we will please Him by allowing Him to control our actions and attitudes. We will live lives that evidence kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. And those things are not self-manufactured, they’re the evidence of the Spirit’s work in our lives. He produces them. The love He produces in us isn’t just our human capacity to love on steroids. It’s a completely different kind of love. It’s selfless rather than selfish. It’s sacrificial rather than self-centered. It’s divine, not human. It’s impossible and non-replicable. In other words, you can’t manufacture this kind of love on your own. It’s humanly impossible. In fact, this entire list that Paul provides is impossible if attempted on your own. The key is found in verse 23: “Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” It all begins in the mind. That’s the battleground. And the renewing of our minds involves a change in the way we think and perceive. When we come to Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit and, along with Him, a new perspective on life and eternity. He begins in us a slow, steady process of internal transformation that works its way out in outward behavior modification. So selfishness gets slowly replaced with selflessness. Self-centeredness gets replaced with sacrifice. Love of self gets replaced with love for others. As our minds are renewed, our behavior begins to change. And that renewal is the work of the Spirit in conjunction with the Word of God. Paul told the Romans, “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2 NLT). He goes on to say, “Don’t think you are better than you really are” (Romans 12:3 NLT). God gives us the capacity to look at ourselves honestly and realistically. His Spirit and His Word combine to provide us with a new way of seeing and thinking about life. And it should change the way we live our life.

God is out to radically change and transform us, not just slightly improve us. A slightly improved version of the old you is still not good enough. So God gave you a new nature and a new power to live differently and distinctively in this life. We can “throw off” our old way of life with all its sins, habits and hangups. We can daily put on our new nature, which has been created by God to mirror His own character of holiness and righteousness. Simply trying to change our behavior is like putting a new set of clean clothes on top of our old, dirty ones. It doesn’t change anything. It’s a facade, a cover up – that only hides the reality within. God wants to change us from the inside out. So He begins with our thoughts and attitudes. As we learn to think differently, we will begin to live differently. We will understand our need for the Spirit’s presence and power each and every day of our lives. We’ll understand our need to know the will of God by spending time in the Word of God. We will come to recognize the difference between the deeds we perform in our own flesh and the fruit that flows through is as a result of the Spirit of God’s work in us. And the new, God-designed version of us will be far more successful than the slightly improved version could ever be.

Father, I want to be radically changed by You each and every day of my life. But I know I have to have my way of thinking radically changed through time spent in Your Word and through submission to Your Holy Spirit’s leading. I don’t want superficial, non-sustainable change. I want to real thing. And only You can produce it in my life. Continue Your inner transformation of my heart and mind, so that my outer behaviors will give evidence of all that You are doing in me. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Ephesians 4:1-16

A High Calling.

Ephesians 4:1-16

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. – Ephesians 4:1 NLT

One of the things to constantly keep in mind when reading most of the letters of Paul is that he is typically writing to a congregation, not an individual. Except in the case of his two letters to Timothy and the one he sent to Titus, most of his letters are intended for a particular body of believers. He is addressing the church corporately. In his letter to the Ephesian church, he is stressing the unique nature of their identity as part of the body of Christ. They are a diverse group of individuals from all walks of life and a variety of religious backgrounds, whom God has called together and placed within His family. They share a common bond as recipients of the grace of God made possible through Jesus Christ. And while everything about their diverse backgrounds might naturally result in disunity and dissension, Paul calls them to unity. They have been loved by God, so now they should love one another.

He begs them to lead lives worthy of their calling. He wants them to conduct their lives in a manner that is in keeping with God’s purpose in calling them in the first place. Then he gives them concrete examples of what that kind of corporate life will look like. They are to be humble, gentle, patient with each other, and willing to love in spite of one another’s faults and failures. He stresses that their union as members of God’s family was the work of the Spirit of God and, as a result, they should strive to maintain their peace with one another. This was not an easy thing considering the natural animosity Jews and Gentiles had toward one another. And it’s important to remember that, as a result of the Gospel, the church in Ephesus was made up of both factions. Paul reminds them that “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all” (Ephesians 4:4-6 NLT). Unity is the theme of this section. Unity in diversity.

God, in His infinite wisdom, has not only called together a diverse group of individuals and placed them into His family, He has gifted each and every one of them with special Spirit-enabled gifts designed to benefit the body of Christ. Among them are the leadership gifts He has given to the church in form of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. These individuals were given to the church by God in order to strengthen and equip the body of Christ so that each member would do his or her work effectively, resulting in a vibrant and growing church. The Greek word Paul uses for “equip” is katartismon which means preparing, mending, or restoring people to their proper use. There are those in the church whose primary responsibility it is to help the body function efficiently and effectively. The church functions best when each individual believer is utilizing his or her spiritual gift in order to build up the rest of the body. When everyone is doing their job and conducting their lives within the body of Christ according to their individual calling, the entire body prospers. And the goal of all of this activity is spiritual maturity – “until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT).

Spiritual maturity or increasing Christ-likeness is God’s objective for the church, and everyone plays a vital role in the process. God’s plan calls for unity and a shared concern for one another. “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4:16 NLT). We are in this together. The church is not a collection of individual believers growing independently and in isolation, but a body where each part has been meticulously and strategically placed by God and designed to function in a symbiotic and sympathetic relationship. This God-ordained and Spirit-empowered entity called the church is to be a remarkable witness to God’s amazing wisdom. It shouldn’t work, but it does. But only as long as we live in humility, gentleness, patience and love with one another, doing everything we can to maintain the unique spirit of unity that God has created to experience.

Father, thank You for the church. When I consider the incredible diversity of the body of Christ and the wide assortment of personalities and backgrounds represented, I am amazed that it works at all. In spite of our individual sin natures and tendency to live self-centered lives even in the midst of community, Your Spirit makes it all function – in spite of us. Give us a growing desire to live in unity, using our God-given gifts to benefit one another. Help us to understand that we grow best when we grow together. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Psalms 131 & 133 – Day 1

The Beauty of Unity.

“How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers lives together in harmony!” – Psalm 133:1 NLT

These two Psalms are also Songs of Ascent, a collection of Psalms that were sung as pilgrims made their annual journey to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. Psalm 131 places the emphasis on the individual. In it, David expresses his humility. He doesn’t think too highly of himself. He refuses to think of himself as too smart for his own good or better than anyone else – in spite of the fact that he is the king. In Psalm 133, he turns his attention to the communal aspect of his faith. He recognizes that he is part of a collection of individuals who together make up the family of God. But it is about more than community, it is about harmony and unity. This is to be true of the church as well. In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul writes, “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:1-5 NLT). He then goes on to describe the attitude that Christ had: One of humility, service, sacrifice, love, and obedience. Paul says that we are to have this same mindset. We are to pursue unity through humility.

In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul stresses the same idea: “Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3 NLT). There it is again. Humility. Unity. Oneness. Paul saw the wisdom in what David had written hundreds of years earlier. It truly is wonderful and pleasant when brothers live together in harmony. And because of what Christ accomplished on the cross and due to the  influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have the capacity to love as no one has ever loved before. We have the mind of Christ and can love as He loved, sacrifice as He did, humble ourselves in the same way He did, and give our lives away in selfless service to others. Especially within the context of the body of Christ.

Before He went to His death on the cross, Jesus spoke these words to His disciples: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35 NLT). Jesus commanded His followers to love one another. That would be the distinctive characteristic that we belonged to Him. It would prove our relationship with Him. It is amazing how much emphasis we put on the Great Commission, feeling the need to go out into the world and make disciples. But we rarely, if ever, talk about this command from the lips of Jesus. He is calling us to love for one another – within the body of Christ, the church. He is commanding us to love as He loved – to the point of death. But is that really happening. Does the world know we are His disciples because of our selfless love for one another, or because of our acts of charity, our generosity, our missions endeavors, our ability to share the Gospel, or our organization effectiveness. Are the lost attracted to our love for one another? Do they see in us something they can’t see anywhere else in the world? Christ has given us the capacity to love and be loved. He has created a new thing called the church, the family of God. In it, we are to live out the character of Christ in the context of community. What good is it to express our love for the lost when we have a hard time loving one another? How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in harmony!

Father, as the church, we have failed to obey the command of Your own Son. We do not love one another as He has called us to love. We can be petty, selfish, divisive, competitive, and mean. We can attempt to do great things for Your kingdom while we refuse to love one another as we have been loved by You. Open our eyes and help us to understand that the church is a noun, not a verb. We are Your people. We are to live as such. We are Your children. We are to get along. We present You in the world. But if we can’t love one another, the Good News loses some of its power. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org