Transformed.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. 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. 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. 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 4:25-32 ESV

What does it look like to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV)? And what would it mean to “no longer walk as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV)? Paul doesn’t leave anything up to our imaginations. While at one time, before coming to know Christ, we had futile minds and a darkened understanding, all that has changed. We used to be alienated from God and were ignorant of godly things because we had hardened hearts. We were callous, sensual by nature and greedy for more and more impurity. That was our old self. But when we came to know Christ, we were given a new nature, a new self, with the capacity to renew and redeem our entire way of thinking. And the way we think has a tremendous impact on the way we live. Which is why Paul encouraged his readers to “put on thew new self, created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). Then he described what that should look like in real life.

One of the first characteristics of our new life should be truth. Everything about our life outside of Christ was marked by falsehood and based on lies. Our view of God, if we had one, was false. Our perspective on sin and any need for salvation was flawed and influenced by the lies of Satan. We probably didn’t think we were that bad. Our view of our own sinfulness was relative, allowing us to see ourselves as somewhat better than others. But when we came to know Christ, we were suddenly exposed to the truth regarding our sin and the condemnation we deserved. We realized for the first time that any hope we had for restoration to a right relationship with God was possible only through Christ. We became aware that we were sinners in need of a Savior. We came to grips with the reality of God’s unapproachable holiness and our own unrighteousness. The magnitude of God’s incredible love as revealed through the death of His Son on the cross dawned on our darkened minds and opened our blind eyes to the truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

As believers we are to put away falsehood and deceit. We have to constantly eliminate the false ideas and faulty precepts on which we formerly based our lives. Instead, we are to “speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25 ESV). While lying was a natural part of our former lives, it is uncharacteristic and unacceptable in our new status as members of God’s family. We are to exhibit holiness and righteousness. For us, honesty isn’t just the best policy, it is the only one. While anger was a normal part of our pre-conversion experience, now we should view it as dangerous and destructive. While we can’t completely eliminate anger from our lives, we can learn to control it. Which is why Paul wrote (quoting from Psalm 4:4), “‘don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV). Our old nature will try and justify our anger. It will want to defend it by labeling it as “righteous indignation.” But anger simply provides an entry point for the enemy. As believers, love is to be the primary characteristic of our lives. 

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus told those listening to His message:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:44-48 ESV

Salvation is not just about having our sins forgiven and our eternity secured. It is about life change. It includes our ongoing transformation through God’s divine process of sanctification. God doesn’t just free us from the penalty of sin, He liberates us from the power of sin in our lives, allowing us to live radically different lives right here, right now. As a result, the thief who comes to faith in Christ, is to no longer steal. He is to work. And rather than take from others, he is to share what he earns with those in need. His whole mindset about life is to change. As believers, our speech should reflect our new nature. Paul writes, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT). Again, notice the change in perspective. It is other-oriented, rather than me-centered. Our words are to build up, not tear down.

As believers, our conduct can grieve the Holy Spirit. When we live like we used to live, according to our old nature, we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our lives, and this brings Him great sorrow. When bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander mark our lives, it is evidence that we are not living in the power of the Holy Spirit. These things are evidences of our old nature. But when we exhibit kindness, tenderness and forgiveness to one another, it is proof that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, producing His fruit through us. We are walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We are living in unity. We are being renewed and putting on our new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Good Fruit.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! 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. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. – Galatians 5:22-26 ESV

When we live according to or under the control of the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to worry about producing the works of the flesh. His power can only produce good fruit, those characteristics and manifestations that align with God’s will and reflect godliness. Living dependent upon and in obedience to the Holy Spirit never results in legalism and license, the two dangers facing the believers in Galatia.  And yet, like them, we can find it so easy to live according to our own sinful nature and end up trying to work our way into God’s good graces or taking advantage of His grace by living in sin and expecting Him to simply forgive and forget.

When we live according to our sinful nature, the outcome is always destructive, not constructive. Driven by selfishness and pride, we make ourselves the highest priority and end up using and at times, abusing others. We tend view others as competition. We struggle with envy and jealousy, anger and distrust. People become tools to get what we want and to satisfy our own self-centered agendas. Our sinful flesh has no love for God or others. It only loves self. Unknowingly, we become our own god, expecting the world to revolve around our wants, needs and desires.

But when we live in willful submission to the Spirit of God, we find ourselves with a supernatural capacity to live in love with God and in harmony with others. We suddenly want what He wants. We see others as more important than ourselves. We look for opportunities to extend grace and express love. The fruit produced in our lives becomes other-oriented instead of self-centered. It becomes uplifting and edifying, meeting the needs of others rather than feeding the insatiable appetite of self. What the Holy Spirit produces in us and through us is fully pleasing to God and there is no law prohibiting its presence in our lives. Yet the works of the flesh, the bad fruit our sin nature produces, are all in contradiction to the will of God and are specifically prohibited by the law of God. When we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are free from the law, because our lives produce fruit that is free from condemnation. Paul elaborated on this very thought in his letter to the Romans:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:1-4 ESV

Paul encouraged the Galatians to live by the Spirit – to live under His control. They could either live according to, under the influence of, their old sin nature or the Spirit. And he wanted them to remember that those “who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there” (Galatians 5:24 ESV). Those sinful passions and desires, while not gone, no longer have to control us. We have an alternative resource – the Holy Spirit. Again, Paul told the Romans, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6 ESV). If we try to live according to the law, we are depending upon the flesh again. If we assume that we can practice license, doing whatever we want, because we are guaranteed eternal life, then we are allowing the flesh to control our lives. And the end result of both legalism and license is death. Our lives will be characterized by rotten fruit that does no one any good. But if we set our mind on the Spirit and His will for us, our lives will be characterized by life and peace, fruitfulness and selflessness, and a love for God that finds expression in our love for others.

Paul gives the Galatians an important insight into living according to the Spirit. “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:25 ESV). No compartmentalization. No hidden areas. The Holy Spirit wants to influence and infiltrate every area of our lives. He wants to control every aspect of our character, eliminating the vestiges of our old nature and replacing it with the nature of Christ. And it will show up in the form of fruit that is God-produced and edifying to everyone around us: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do – He has provided a way for sinful men and women to live lives characterized the fruit of righteousness. His Spirit within us is the key to seeing His righteousness flow out of us. The Spirit of God is the means by which we live as children of God.

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.

Seek and Destroy.

Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous. The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil. – 1 John 3:7-8 NET

Sin is an ever-present reality for every human being – including Christians. Ever since Adam and Eve listened to the lies of Satan in the garden, and put their own self-interests ahead of God’s will, mankind has been enslaved to the enemy’s wishes, acting according to his rebellious, anti-God agenda. And yet, John would have us remember that the reason Jesus came into the world, lived a sinless life, died on the cross in man’s place, and rose again from the grave, was to put an end to Satan’s rebellion and sin’s dominion in our lives once and for all. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). Then why do we still struggle with sin? Why do we, as believers, still have to put up with our old sin nature that makes life so difficult and living righteously so seemingly impossible? The answer lies in the now-not-yet nature of our current status. John makes it clear that we are “called children of God, and so we are” (1 John 3:1 ESV). Just in case we didn’t get his point, he repeats it. “Beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 John 3:2 ESV). We have been born of God and have His seed abiding in us (1 John 3:9 ESV). According to John, this is a present reality. We are God’s children right here, right now. It is not something that is reserved for us at some future date. But there is a “not yet” nature to our status as God’s children. We are citizens of heaven living in a strange place. We are not where we belong. We are strangers and aliens living in a place that is foreign and hostile to us. John even tells us, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1 ESV). Not only does the world not know us, it hates us. Because it is under the dominion and control of Satan, the world despises anything and anyone who represents God’s Kingdom. So he has us in his sights and constantly seeks to attack us and defeat us. And to make matters worse, we still have our old natures, what Paul refers to as the flesh, living within us and causing us all kinds of problems. We have our new righteous nature, provided for us by Christ. And we have our old sinful nature, inherited from Adam. But John wants us to remember that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). Part of the process in which we find ourselves is the ongoing mortification or putting to death of our old nature. This will continue until the Lord returns and we receive our glorified, sinless bodies. “But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 ESV). There is a day coming when we shall be completely sinless just as He is sinless. But in the meantime, we must do battle with our old natures. and “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13 ESV). God has given us His Spirit to make it all possible. We have the strength to resist the enemy, and do what is right and righteous.

What we need to constantly realize is that Jesus, through the Spirit of God, is constantly seeking out those areas of our lives that remain in rebellion against the Kingdom of God. He is out to seek and destroy the vestiges of our rebellions sin nature and put them to death. Through exposure to the Word of God and with the help of the Spirit of God, we can have the remaining darkness in our lives exposed by the light. We can have the falsehood and lies that still linger in our hearts destroyed by the truth of God’s Word. The presence of sin should not surprise us. But John would warn us that a Christian who sins is still living in subjection to the enemy. He has been set free, but is willingly allowing himself to be enslaved again. As Christians, when we sin, we are not living in the reality of who we are. We are hiding our true nature. “A sinning Christian conceals his true character when he sins and reveals it only through holiness. On the other hand, a child of Satan reveals his true character by sin” (Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John). Christians can and do sin. But it is NOT our nature. It is not who we are. Our capacity to live righteously is what shows that we are His children. Claiming to be a child of God, but living like a slave of Satan, hides our true character. But because we know who we are and what we will one day be, we purity ourselves as He is pure. We seek to be like Him who died so that we might live. John knows we will sin. Which is why he reminded us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). Sin is inevitable, but it is not irresistible. We can say no to sin. We can live righteously, even in this life. And when we do, it proves the reality of who we are. It gives evidence to the world that we are children of God and that Jesus Christ is still actively destroying the works of the devil, in our lives and in this world.

 

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The Best Is Yet To Come.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. – 1 John 3:2 ESV

John went out of his way to let his readers know that they were God’s children. It wasn’t some future hope reserved for them in heaven, but a present reality that was to set them apart from the rest of the world. John could think of no greater expression of God’s love than that He would call people who had once been His enemy, His children. And that new relationship had been made possible by Him sending His own Son to take on human flesh and die for the sins of mankind. John puts it this way a little bit later in his letter: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9 ESV). And John’s statement, “that we might live through him” is not just a reference to the eternal life reserved for us after Jesus returns. John had heard Jesus Himself say, “ I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). So as believers, we have the amazing privilege of being children of God. Which means we are loved by God. Not only that, we have the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth, living within us, providing us with an abiding awareness and constant proof that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be and that all He promised and that the apostles taught was true. Which includes the promise of Jesus, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 ESV). He is with us now. John referred to Him as our “advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1 ESV). He intercedes on our behalf before the very throne of God. And the Spirit of God lives within us, providing us with divine insight and incentive to live godly lives in the midst of a godless world.

But a big part of our motivation to live righteously in this life has to do with the life to come. At this point, we have residing within us our new nature, our sinless nature, given to us by Jesus. Because of His death, we were given His righteousness. We received new natures, that like His, are sinless. Our new natures are incapable of sin. John says, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV). “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning; for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:8-9 ESV). Jesus died in order to put an end to sin, to destroy the works of the devil, and to eliminate the spirit of the antichrist that pervades this world. And while we still struggle with the ever-present reality of sin, we must never forget that Jesus Christ has already done all that needs to be done to put an end to sin and death. His crucifixion settled it. His death paid the price for man’s sins and satisfied the wrath of God. His resurrection was proof that His death was worthy and that His Father was satisfied. It also proved His power over death. The apostle Paul said it so well. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV).

John wants us to know that there is a day coming when our sinless nature will be our only nature. Right now, we struggle with our residual, clinging, hard-to-kill sin nature that is constantly doing battle with our new nature. But there is a day coming when He will return, and “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 ESV). His sanctifying work in us will be completed once and for all. Our old natures will be eliminated and we will be like Him. Which is why John says, “everyone who thus hopes in him, purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3 ESV). It is our hope of future holiness that motivates our desire for present holiness. Because we are children of God NOW, and our future inheritance is reserved for us, we should want to live like who we are. We should desire to see our new nature increasingly become our only nature. Our future hope should instill in us a present passion to be sinless and righteous even now. The best is yet to come, but Jesus provides abundant, overflowing, righteous life even now. No one states this reality better than the apostle Paul. “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:6-11).