His Will, Not Mine

11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:11-17 ESV

James had strong words for those who claimed to be Christ-followers but failed to live in obedience to God’s commands. That kind of behavior was unacceptable because saving faith always results in sanctification, the Spirit-empowered transformation of the believer into the likeness of Christ. The apostle Paul’s informed the believers in Thessalonica of his ongoing prayer for them:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23

The New Living Translation words Paul’s request this way: “Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way…”

Both James and Paul had high expectations for the believers to whom they each ministered. There was no room for spiritual apathy or complacency. God’s gift of salvation was not intended to be viewed as a ticket that gained the holder entrance into some future state of glorification. While eternal life is the final reward for all those who place their faith in Christ, there is also the present reality of our ongoing transformation into the image of Christ.

Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, who were primarily Gentiles, and reminded them that there had been a time when their hearts were incapable of seeing the truth. It was as if they had a veil over their eyes that prevented them from recognizing the gift being offered to them in Christ. Their condition had been just like that of the Jews in the days of Moses. He had delivered to them God’s law but they had been unable to understand or obey it.

…the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand. – 2 Corinthians 3:14-15 NLT

Little had changed over the centuries. Even Paul, a Jew himself, recognized that his people still lived in a state of spiritual darkness, unable to see or receive the truth concerning Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. Then he reminds the Corinthians believers that they had come to faith in Christ because the Holy Spirit had removed the veil of ignorance and apathy.

But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 NLT

Not only had they experienced freedom from sin and condemnation, but they had begun the process of transformation into the likeness of Christ. And all those who are being conformed to His image should reflect His character. That is the whole point behind James’ letter. He is demanding that his readers embrace the life of holiness to which they had been called by God. They were free in Christ, but they were not free to live as they pleased. Their behavior was to be in keeping with the Word of God. Obedience to God’s law was non-optional. And he made that point perfectly clear.

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. – James 4:11 NLT

And James appears to have the Mosaic Law in mind. He is calling believers to live in keeping with the commands of God as found in the book of Leviticus.

“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.

“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.

“Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord.

“Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

“You must obey all my decrees.” – Leviticus 19:15-19 NLT

While these commands had been given by God to the people of Israel as they made their way from Egypt to the promised land, James insists that they were still relevant and required for his 1st-Century audience. God’s will regarding the interpersonal interactions between His people remained unchanged. And James warns his readers against cherry-picking which laws they wanted to obey.

…your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. – James 4:11 NLT

In order for them to practice partiality and justify their fits of anger against one another, they were having to play fast and loose with God’s law. If nothing else, they were violating the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And they were disobeying the command of Christ.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” – Jonn 13:34 ESV

These people had made a habit out of judging one another. They were hyper-critical and harsh in their treatment of one another. But James warns them:

God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? – James 4:12 NLT

They were guilty of violating every command found in Leviticus 19:15-19. It was as if they had chosen to put back on the veil that the Spirit had removed. They were willingly closing their eyes to the truth of God’s Word and living in disobedience to His will for them.

In a sense, they were acting as if they were large and in charge. They had decided that they wanted to be the masters of their own fates and the captains of their own souls. And this shared sense of autonomy and self-determination was doing great damage to the body of Christ. And James warns them against trying to play god. Their desire to control their own fates was not only misguided but impossible. And James points out just how ludicrous their attempt at self-sovereignty really was.

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. – James 4:13-14 NLT

Their power was limited and their ability to predict the future was laughable. While they could make grandiose plans, they had no idea what tomorrow would bring. In fact, they had no guarantee they would live long enough to see the next day. So, James provides them with an alternative perspective.

What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil. – James 4:15-16 NLT

This all points back to the issue of holiness. As followers of Christ, they were to recognize their new status as children of God and citizens of the Kingdom. They were no longer of this world. They belonged to God and were expected to live according to His will and not their own. They could make plans, but they were to hold them loosely and always remember that those plans must be in keeping with God’s will.

The apostle Paul constantly encouraged believers to recognize their new identity in Christ.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

And Paul made it clear that this set-apart status as God’s temple applied to the corporate community of faith, not just the individual believer.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16 NLT

The temple of God in Jerusalem had been set apart for His use. It was intended to be His earthly dwelling place. And it was the responsibility of the priests to maintain the holiness and purity of the temple through constant obedience to God’s laws. A believer’s body belongs to God. It is the temple or dwelling place of the Spirit of God. And God expects us to keep His house pure and set apart for His use. The same thing is true regarding the body of Christ, the church. According to Paul, it too is the temple of God and its holiness should be diligently maintained. That’s why James pleads, “Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world” (James 4:8 NLT).

They needed to do some serious house cleaning. They had allowed the temple of God to become impure and uninhabitable. Unconfessed sin had made God’s dwelling place unacceptable. And their individual battles with sin had done serious damage to the faith community. So, James closes out this chapter with a call to obedience.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. – James 4:17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

You Reap What You Sow

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18 ESV

Back in chapter one, James encouraged his readers to seek wisdom from God.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. – James 1:5 ESV

And he added that God is the source of all good gifts.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. – James 1:17 ESV

Through their relationship with Jesus Christ, the Christians to whom James wrote enjoyed access to the indwelling Spirit of God and the life-transforming truth of the gospel. According to James, a Christ follower is to be characterized by obedience to the word of God. It’s not enough to hear it; you have to live it out in everyday life.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. – James 1:22 NLT

And James pointed out that a person who claims to be spiritual but fails to control their tongue is practicing a hypocritical and powerless form of religion.

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. – James 1:26 NLT

James described the tongue as a powerful and virtually uncontrollable source of destruction – even within the body of Christ. With his lips, a believer can declare his faith in Christ and then turn around and spread vicious rumors about a fellow Christ-follower. Ironically, the same tongue could be used to glorify God and vilify other believers.

Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! – James 3:9-10 NLT

Now James explains how to determine whether you are operating according to godly wisdom and displaying an understanding of God’s will and ways. It’s all in how we behave. Our outward actions reveal whether we are walking in step with the Spirit of God. The things we say and do are the most accurate barometers of our spiritual health. They provide irrefutable evidence of the condition of our hearts. That’s why James demands that Christ-followers put the wisdom of God into practice through humble obedience to His will.

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. – James 3:13 NLT

The apostle Paul stressed the non-negotiable nature of the Spirit’s involvement when it comes to living a godly and honorable life.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 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. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

And Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the one who provides us with the power to tame the tongue and produce the fruit of righteousness.

…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

The Spirit is a God-given source of wisdom and supernatural strength, and His primary role is to guide and empower believers as they navigate the sometimes difficult path from salvation to future glorification. And Paul would have us remember that the Spirit wants to influence every area of the believer’s life – from his attitudes and actions to the words that come out of his mouth.

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 5:25-26 NLT

And James points out how easy it is to try and mask our lack of godliness through deceit and lies. When we fail to live in obedience to the Spirit, our lives inevitably produce a whole range of destructive deeds and Paul provides a shocking but incomplete list of them in his letter to the Galatians.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

We’re either living in step with the Spirit of God or giving in to the desires of our own sinful natures. And it’s fairly easy to determine which path we have chosen based on the “fruit” our lives produce. That’s why James warns against attempting to cover up our godless lifestyle through lies and deceit.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. – James 3:14-15 ESV

When the wrong fruit appears in our lives, we’re tempted to cover it up by portraying ourselves as super saints and spiritual rock stars. We posture and pretend, trying to convince others of our superior spirituality. But all the while, we are living a lie. Yet we end up excusing and justifying our behavior and, in doing so, we display a form of wisdom that is anything but godly. Driven by selfish ambition and jealousy, we rationalize our behavior and promote a brand of wisdom that comes from the enemy and not God.

Jesus gave a perfect example of this self-righteous but self-deceiving kind of wisdom when He told the following parable to His disciples.

Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 NLT

The Pharisee was self-deceived. He wrongly viewed himself as spiritually superior and worthy of God’s praise. But Jesus declared him to be a self-righteous and pretentious hypocrite whose pride left him unjustified before God. He had lived this lie for so long that he eventually believed it to be true. He went home believing he was fully accepted before God, but he was wrong.

You can attempt to disguise the jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart but, in time, it always makes itself known. And James states that “wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind” (James 3:16 NLT). In other words, those two traits are never alone. They’re always accompanied by other, equally disturbing “fruit” that produce death rather than life. 

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. – James 3:17 ESV

God’s wisdom, which is available upon request, is capable of producing a host of outcomes that positively impact the life of the recipient and all those around him. It produces a desire for peace rather than jealousy and strife. In place of self-promotion, it displays a heartfelt concern for the well-being of others. It is reasonable rather than contentious and confrontational. It manifests itself in mercy toward others and produces fruit that is for their benefit. Godly wisdom allows no room for favoritism or partiality. It fosters unity and encourages an atmosphere of humility and selfless service to others.

James’ point is clear. Those who seek the wisdom of God will receive it. And when they avail themselves of it and live in obedience to it, it will produce a harvest of righteousness. The wisdom from above is fruitful but it must be cultivated by those whom God has chosen as His caretakers. If we obey His Word and live in keeping with His Spirit’s guidance, we will “plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18 NLT).

The apostle Paul reiterates this promise of fruitfulness when we choose to avail ourselves of God’s wisdom. But the choice is ours and we must make it every day of our lives.

You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. – Galatians 6:7-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Worthy Words

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. James 3:1-12 ESV

It was Jesus who said, “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth” (Matthew 15:11 NLT). He was responding to Pharisees and the teachers of religious law who had accused the disciples of eating food without having properly cleansed their hands.

“Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” – Matthew 15:2 NLT

In response, Jesus accused these men of putting a higher priority on their man-made traditions than they did on the Mosaic law. They were guilty of violating the commandments of God. In fact, He put them in the same category as their disobedient ancestors whom God had accused of infidelity and unfaithfulness.

“These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

Words matter. What we say with our lips reflects the condition of our hearts. And Jesus succinctly summed up the problem of the hypocritical religious leaders of Israel when He said: “the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you” (Matthew 15:18-20 NLT).

In this chapter, James picks up on this same theme by pointing out the dangerous nature of the tongue. In doing so, he is simply continuing his emphasis on the importance of works, which are the visible manifestations of faith. For James, anyone who claims to have faith but fails to display any tangible evidence to back it up is only fooling themselves. Their faith is dead and lifeless.

It’s not that these people are devoid of actions or activity. But their behavior fails to measure up to God’s righteous standards. They were guilty of treating one another unfairly by showing favoritism to the rich and influential. They were claiming to love their neighbor while treating the poor among them as second-class citizens.

Now, James focuses his attention on the importance of their words. Like Jesus, James stresses the pedagogical nature of human speech. He even warns his readers to avoid becoming teachers within the body of Christ because God will hold them to a high account.

…not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. – James 3:1 NLT

Jesus had accused the Pharisees of “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9 ESV). Through their words and actions, they were instructing the people of God to disregard His commandments. And Jesus warned His disciples, “ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14 NLT).

The problem, according to James, is the uncontrollable nature of the tongue. It may be small but it’s extremely powerful and has the potential to do great damage. The words that come out of our mouths can leave a wake of destruction in their path: Hurt feelings, destroyed relationships, damaged lives from deceptive doctrines, ruined reputations, and apostate believers.

All this destruction is due to a simple muscle called the tongue. And James stresses the minuscule yet massive influence of this seemingly insignificant part of the human anatomy. He compares it to a tiny bit that allows a rider to dictate the actions of a horse. It’s like the small rudder by which a pilot can control the direction of a large vessel and determine its final destination. In comparison, “the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things” (James 3:5 ESV).

The issue here is that of control. A bit and a rudder are used to determine direction. They have the power to direct and influence something far larger than themselves. In the same way, the tongue, though small, can be used to influence others in both a positive and negative way. To fail to recognize the tongue’s potential for destruction is dangerous. James compares it to a tiny, insignificant spark that can set a whole forest on fire. And just to make sure his readers understand the comparison, James adds:

…among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. – James 3:6 NLT

Think about what James is saying. The human brain is considered to have the processing power of a super-computer, yet it requires the tongue to communicate its thoughts and impressions. A thought unexpressed by the tongue remains trapped in the mind. But words, both spoken and written carry great power for good and evil. And unlike horses, dogs, lions, and other animals, the tiny tongue remains uncontrollable. No matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to tame the tongue. And James paints a rather bleak picture of the problem, describing the tongue as “restless and evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8 NLT).

But his point seems to be that, without God’s help, the tongue will continue to be a destructive force in the life of a believer. We have no innate ability to control what comes out of our mouths. We can try, but eventually, our words reveal the true condition of our hearts. Remember what Jesus said: “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19 NLT). It begins with thoughts and ends with either actions or words. And what makes our words so dangerous is their power to influence others. That’s why James stressed the tongue’s power to teach. While others may not mimic our evil behavior, they may be influenced to listen to our words and follow our instructions. And James provides a convicting example of how the tongue can negatively influence the body of Christ.

Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. – James 3:9-10 NLT

This ties back to the problem of favoritism and partiality. The believers to whom James was writing were guilty of treating some within their fellowship with disdain – and all while they were worshiping God together. With their lips, they were praising Yahweh and denigrating their neighbors at the same time. And James calls them out for their blatant hypocrisy.

Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! – James 3:10 NLT

Their words and works were ungodly and unacceptable. With their tongues, they were doing irreparable damage to the body of Christ. And James points out the illogical and seemingly impossible nature of this kind of behavior among followers of Christ.

Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. – James 3:11-12 NLT

They had been redeemed and renewed by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. They were new creations and had received new hearts and enjoyed the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. They had the God-given capacity to live in keeping with His will and according to the example of Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth of the life-transforming grace of God made possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge. – 1 Corinthians 1:4-5 ESV

In his second letter to the very same congregation, Paul stressed the all-encompassing nature of God’s sanctifying grace.

…just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness, and in the love we inspired in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. – 2 Corinthians 8:7 BSB

According to Paul, the tongue could be tamed. Through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the believer’s speech can be purified and his words can be sanctified so that the body of Christ is unified and strengthened. Like the great king, David, we can ask God to help us tame the tongue so that our words produce good and bring Him glory.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. – Psalm 19:14 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

The Justification of Works

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:14-26 ESV

For James, faith in Christ was to be a life-transforming experience that manifested itself in tangible and practical ways. He opened this section with the rhetorical question: “how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” (James 2:1 NLT). Saving faith should be sanctifying faith. It should change the way we live and how we interact with others. There is no place for favoritism or partiality in the life of a Christ follower.

James was concerned with the double standard that existed among his audience. As believers, they were claiming to “obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (James 2:8 NLT) But, in reality, they were guilty of favoring some people over others and, in doing so, they were guilty of breaking the law. In other words, they were practicing a hypocritical kind of faith. It was the same brand of faith Jesus accused the Pharisees of practicing.

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show.” – Matthew 23:2-5 NLT

According to Jesus, the Pharisees were guilty of being both law keepers and lawbreakers. They were looked up to for their expertise concerning the law of Moses but they regularly violated the very laws they were supposed to uphold. They said one thing and did another.

And James asks his audience a probing question designed to expose the hypocritical nature of their own relationship with the “royal law.” These people were familiar with “the golden rule.” They knew that they were expected to love their neighbor as they loved themselves. This was the clear teaching of Jesus. In fact, when the Jewish religious leaders had asked Jesus to expound on what He believed to be the greatest of all the commandments, Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT).

Love God. Love others. Those were the two “greatest” or most important commandments of God. They were inseparable and completely interdependent. It all begins with love for God. Once we understand who He is and what He has done for us, the natural response is to express our love and appreciation to Him. But one of the greatest expressions of our love for God is our willingness to love all those whom He has made – especially our fellow believers.

The apostle John described the symbiotic relationship between our love for God and others.

We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. – 1 John 4:19-21 NLT

Faith is a lifestyle. It changes the way we live. It doesn’t simply save us from future condemnation and reserve a place for us in the Kingdom of God. Through the power of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, it transforms our behavior in the here-and-now. It frees us from our captivity to sin and empowers us to live as sons and daughters of God, exhibiting the new hearts and new natures He has bestowed upon us.

James believed that true saving faith would be impossible to hide. It would show up in everyday life and manifest itself through daily interactions with others. He even provides a hypothetical scenario where faith should show up but doesn’t.

Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? – James 2:15-16 NLT

What we have to understand is that, for James, love for others is a tangible expression of a believer’s faith in God. If someone believes in God and knows that God requires that His children love one another, that individual will express His faith in God through obedience to His commands. He will love as he has been loved. He will demonstrate His love for God by becoming a conduit of God’s for others. But that love must be practical and not just a form of lip service.

Words of love are important but they won’t fill an empty stomach or clothe the naked. To claim to love your neighbor while failing to lift a finger to assist them is the highest form of hypocrisy and a blatant display of faithlessness. Why? Because it reveals a lack of transformation and a glaring absence of sanctification. Someone who claims to be a follower of Christ but who fails to model his life after Christ is living a lie.

That’s what leads James to state, “you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless” (James 2:17 NLT). And James knew that there would be those who blamed their lack of brotherly love on their temperament or personality type.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” – James 2:18 NLT

But James wasn’t buying that excuse. He countered, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds” (James 2:19 NLT). Without the evidence of outward love, faith remains invisible to the human eye. You can claim to believe in God but, for James, that was insufficient. Even demons believe that God exists but they have no capacity to live godly lives. They can fear Him for who He is but they are incapable of showing love for Him or anyone else.

There are some who claim that James is contradicting the teachings of the apostle Paul, who proclaimed, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV). Paul makes it quite clear that no one can earn their way into God’s good graces through human effort. Salvation cannot be attained through obedience to the law or adherence to a set of religious standards. And James would fully agree.

But James is simply suggesting that saving faith produces fruit in the life of the believer. It results in a radical transformation of the heart that manifests itself in tangible expressions of sacrificial love and service to others. Saving faith shows up because the life-transforming power of God can’t be held back.

And to prove this point to his Jewish audience, James uses two Old Testament characters as illustrations. First, he directs their attention to Abraham, the patriarch of the nation of Israel. He recalls the fateful story of when God ordered Abraham to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice. And he notes that Abraham faithfully followed through on this difficult command, preparing to take the life of his only son and heir. But God intervened, sparing Isaac from death by providing a ram as a substitute. And James stresses that Abraham’s actions that day were an expression of his faith in God.

Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. – James 2:21-22 NLT

And quoting Genesis 15:6, James concludes, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” Abraham’s faith in God showed up in an outward sign of obedience. He believed in God and was willing to do whatever God called him to do – even when it made no sense. And as James states, “his actions made his faith complete.”

Next, James uses the familiar story of Rahab the harlot. She was a pagan woman who expressed her belief in the God of Israel by providing protection for the two spies who sought refuge in her home. In return for her act of kindness, she asked that she and her family be spared when the city was destroyed by the Israelites. And what motivated her request was a belief in the superiority of Yahweh, the God of the Israelites.

“…the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.” – Joshua 2:11-13 NLT

Rahab believed in God and put her faith to the test by trusting in the integrity and honesty of the two spies. She protected them and helped them escape and was rewarded for her efforts. Her faith had been accompanied by works, and she was saved.

And James sums up this whole lesson on faith and works with the statement: “Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” (James 2:26 NLT). He is not suggesting that his audience is made up of non-believers. He is not questioning their salvation. He is simply stating that their faith in Christ should be accompanied by good works that evidence the transformative power of the gospel. A lack of fruit is evidence of death, not life. An individual who claims to have been transformed by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit but whose life fails to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit is as good as dead spiritually. He is like a physical body without breath, a tree without fruit, or a cloud without rain.

For James, it was simple. Faith, while invisible to the human eye, could be easily demonstrated by outward actions. That’s why he so confidently asserted, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds” (James 2:18 NLT). According to James, works may not earn your way into heaven, but they will prove you belong there because they give evidence that you are a child of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Trials, Troubles, and Trust

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. James 1:9-18 ESV

So often, we judge the success of our lives based on the circumstantial evidence that surrounds us. If our lives are free from trouble and trials, then we assume that God is pleased with us. But should any kind of difficulty come our way, we jump to the opposite conclusion and assume that God is punishing us for something we have done or something we have failed to do.

But James has been encouraging us to see life through a different lens. We must learn to view our circumstances with the clarifying help of God’s wisdom. And James gives a few examples of what this looks like in real life. First, “the believer of humble means should take pride in his high position” (James 1:9 NLT). Notice who the referent is in this verse. It is a believer who just happens to be poor. But James declares that this individual actually enjoys a “high position” or standing because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. He is a child of God and an heir to the Kingdom of God. His lack of social standing is inconsequential when compared with his status as a royal subject of heaven.

In James’ day, the average person believed that poverty was a curse from God. To be poor was considered a sign of God’s displeasure and discipline. Wealth was considered a sign of blessing. If you were rich, you must have done something to please God and warrant His outpouring of physical blessings. But James puts that fallacy to rest by stating, “the rich person’s pride should be in his humiliation, because he will pass away like a wildflower in the meadow” (James 1:10 NLT).

In other words, the person of means should always maintain a healthy does of humility by remembering that his wealth is temporary. As the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you. At death, his 15 minutes of fame will come to an abrupt and unavoidable end. And James provides a very eloquent description of this inevitable outcome that every wealthy individual faces.   

For the sun rises with its heat and dries up the meadow; the petal of the flower falls off and its beauty is lost forever. So also the rich person in the midst of his pursuits will wither away. – James 1:11 NLT

This thought brings James back to his original charge: “consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials” (James 1:2 NLT). But now he adds a further point of clarification that encompasses the fate of every believer, whether they are poor or wealthy.

Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him. – James 1:12 NLT

It all goes back to the issue of the trials that God uses to test the spiritual condition of our lives. Trials are not punishments, but they serve as divine purifying agents that help to burn away the dross of sin that contaminates our lives. They help to purify and prepare God’s children for the future reward that awaits them: the crown of life that He has promised. Temporal wealth is not a sign of God’s blessing. Poverty is not evidence of His displeasure. And the presence of trials in the life of a believer is not an indication of God’s divine discipline. They should be viewed as instruments in the hands of a holy God who is lovingly purging the impurities and imperfections from the lives of those He loves. That is what led the apostle Paul to encourage the Corinthians to maintain a long-term, future-focused perspective regarding their present sufferings.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT

The apostle Peter shared Paul’s perspective and echoed his call for humility and faith in the midst of present difficulties.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. – 1 Peter 5:6-10 NLT

Notice that both of these men stress the future glory that awaits the children of God. That is where we should set our sights and focus our attention. The promises of God concerning our eternal heritage are intended to instill hope and produce endurance. The trials of this present age have a shelf life. They will come to an end. And we are to set our hopes on the glorious future that God has planned for us.

But James warns against confusing the tests that God brings into our lives with temptations. He has made it clear that trials are tests. They are intended to expose sin and lead to confession, purification, and further sanctification. But for some, the presence of an unwanted trial can result in sin rather than sanctification. We can become angry and lash out. We can allow the trial to produce envy, lust, and resentment. We may even find ourselves shaking our fists in the face of God and refusing to respond in repentance. Instead, we allow the trial to produce further sin and then blame God for our actions.

Yet James will not give us that out.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. – James 1:13 NLT

Trials are tests but not temptations. God would never encourage one of His children to sin.  Yet, the temptation to do so is always there. The Old Testament story of Job is a perfect example of a test that could have easily become a temptation. God had allowed Satan to test the righteousness of Job by inflicting him with a debilitating skin disease.

Satan left the LORD’s presence, and he struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot.

Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. – Job 2:7-8 NLT

In the midst of suffering from this horrible condition, Job’s wife confronted him with far-from-comforting words.

His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” – Job 2:9 NLT

At that point, Job faced a temptation. He could have listened to the counsel of his wife and blamed God for his unpleasant circumstances. But instead, he called out his wife for her foolish advice and declared his commitment to trust the will of God.

But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong. – Job 2:10 NLT

For Job, the source of his temptation was not God but his own wife. It was an external source. But James states that, more often than not, the temptation is an inside job.

each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. – James 1:14 NLT

It starts in the heart. Had Job not been a righteous man who had a love for God, he could have easily bought into his wife’s errant advice and lashed out at God for his devastating circumstances. Had his heart not been in the right place, Job could have made the wrong decision. And James points out the inevitable outcome of an impure heart that gives in to ungodly desires.

…when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. – James 1:15 NLT

We can’t blame God for our poor choices because, according to James, He is the giver of good gifts.

All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change. – James 1:17 NLT

God may test, but He never tempts. He doesn’t cause us to sin. What He does is give us the capacity to respond to the tests of life with faith that allows us to experience His life-transforming power that eventually leaves us “perfect and complete, not deficient in anything” (James 1:4 NLT).

God is not fickle or capricious. He doesn’t tease or tempt His children. But He does lovingly discipline them so that they might experience the full force of His sanctifying power in their lives. God is consistent and unchanging. His character doesn’t fluctuate and His sovereign plan for us remains unwavering and reliable.

By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. – James 1: 18 NLT

God preordained our salvation and He has planned out every aspect of our sanctification and future glorification. And no amount of trials can prevent God from completing what He has begun. This glorious promise is what prompted the apostle Paul to write:

…we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently). – Romans 8:23-25 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Wise Enough to Know Better

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 ESV

How is one to “count it all joy” when encountering “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2 ESV)? For James, the answer was simple; you need the wisdom of God. The divinely ordained ability to see things from God’s perspective.

Life is filled with confusing and sometimes contradictory circumstances that we can’t explain and try to avoid at all costs. Trials and difficulties seem to be antithetical to the good life that most of us want to experience during our time on earth. They are unwanted and seemingly unhelpful. But James suggests that the presence of trials in our lives should cause us to rejoice because they test our faith and end up producing endurance and spiritual maturity.

But this kind of positive outlook concerning trials isn’t a natural and normal response for most of us. We tend to take the glass-half-full approach and view trials as unexpected interruptions to our daily routine that produce pain, difficulty, and despair. We see them as undesirable disruptions to our normal way of life.

That’s why James suggests that we might have a wisdom deficiency. He seems to know that most of us have a difficult time rejoicing when tribulations and trials show up. Our natural tendency is to gripe and complain. We ask questions like, “Why me?” and “Why now?” We wonder what we might have done to deserve this far-from-pleasant fate. We may even shake our fists at God and demand that He remove whatever it is we are experiencing. But James states that an inability to find joy in the midst of trials may be a sign that we need a dose of godly wisdom. So, he suggests that we take that need to God.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. – James 1:5 ESV

Godly wisdom provides divine insight into the everyday affairs of life. It allows us to see things from God’s perspective. As human beings, we have a limited capacity for comprehending all that is happening around us. We can’t see into the future and determine the fallout of our present-day experiences. So, we’re left to question how anything we don’t enjoy for the moment can have any hope of producing a positive outcome. We deem anything that makes us uncomfortable or that we find inconvenient to be a personal affront to our happiness. But that attitude fails to take into account the sovereignty and providence of God.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

God’s ways are not our ways. He doesn’t operate according to our will or ask what we think would be best for our lives. He is all-knowing and fully capable of determining what is proper and appropriate for producing godliness in the life of His child. And the only way we can begin to understand the mysterious ways of God is through a good dose of His wisdom. And when we ask for it, He gladly responds and provides His children with the ability to view the difficulties of life from a new perspective. The apostle Paul provides an apt description of this wisdom-empowered capacity to see life from God’s viewpoint.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. – Romans 8:28 NLT

We may not like or enjoy what we are going through but, as God’s chosen people, we understand that He always has our best interest in mind. According to Paul, “we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT). Like a master craftsman or a painter, God is always perfecting His work, taking great pains to see that the final product is “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4 ESV). No detail is overlooked. No blemish is ignored or allowed to remain. And sometimes the art of perfecting His creation requires Him to make renovations that seem radical and unnecessary from our point of view. We view them as invasive and far too harsh. But God’s ways are not our ways. His methodology may not make sense to us but it’s difficult to argue with the final product He produces. 

The apostle John reminds us that we can trust God’s ways and find hope in the ultimate outcome of His redemptive plan.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

Wisdom is the key to weathering the present storms of life and maintaining a confident outlook regarding the future. When we begin to doubt the goodness of God or question the necessity of trials, we simply need to ask Him for an extra dose of His wisdom. But James would have us remember to do so with caution.

But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. – James 1:6 NLT

It’s interesting to note that when most of us encounter trials in our lives, we turn to God, but not for wisdom. When we find ourselves experiencing overwhelming difficulties we acknowledge our need for God by asking Him to remove the unwanted circumstance. So, in a sense, we see the removal of the difficulty as the ultimate answer to our problem. Our hope is in the elimination of the trial, not in the power of God to use the trial for our good and His glory.

To a certain degree, we all share the belief that trials have no place in the life of a believer. We view them as anomalies and undesirable disruptions to our preferred way of life. So, when they show up we ask God to immediately remove them. Rather than asking for wisdom to see our trials from God’s perspective, we ask God to remove the trial altogether. This reveals that our true desire is for a trouble-free existence, not the sanctifying, life-transforming power of God.

James warns against exhibiting a wavering faith. He is referring to a faith that is fluctuating and unstable. It can’t make up its mind. One minute, our faith is in the goodness of God even in the face of difficulty. Then suddenly, we begin to believe that the difficulty is the problem and the only solution is its removal. And when God doesn’t remove it, we begin to doubt.

“The Greek word diakrinomenos, used twice in this verse, is better translated, ‘let him ask in faith, free from divided motives and divisive attitudes, for such a person is like an ocean wave . . .’” – David DeGraaf, “Some Doubts about Doubt: The New Testament Use of Diakrino,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Doubt is an everyday part of life. It’s normal and natural. But as believers, it should be constantly decreasing in its intensity and the influence it has over our lives. The wisdom of God allows us to see trials and difficulties from an eternal viewpoint that puts them into proper perspective. The apostle Paul knew what it was like to view his temporal, earthly circumstances from an eternal vantage point.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 BSB

And that ability to see things from God’s perspective provided him with an overwhelming sense of calm and contentment, no matter what trials or difficulties came his way.

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

James describes those with fluctuating faith as wind-blown waves. They display discontentment with their circumstances and can’t seem to make up their mind whether they want to put their trust in God or in the hope of having their trials removed by God. James paints these kinds of fickle individuals in a less-than-flattering light.

Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. – James 1:7-8 NLT

The removal of trials will not produce contentment. A trouble-free life will not result in a godly life. Too often, we believe that the difficulties of life are what makes the Christian life difficult. But Paul and James would both declare that it is a lack of wisdom and faith that are the root of our suffering and discontentment. As long as we fixate on having all our problems removed, we will never experience the joy of having our faith strengthened by having our weaknesses exposed. And nobody knew this better than the apostle Paul.

…to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

The X-Ray Vision of God

1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
    he turns it wherever he will.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart.
To do righteousness and justice
    is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
Haughty eyes and a proud heart,
    the lamp of the wicked, are sin.
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
    but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue
    is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
    because they refuse to do what is just.
The way of the guilty is crooked,
    but the conduct of the pure is upright.
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
    than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.
10 The soul of the wicked desires evil;
    his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.
11 When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise;
    when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.
12 The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked;
    he throws the wicked down to ruin.
13 Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
    will himself call out and not be answered.
14 A gift in secret averts anger,
    and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.
15 When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous
    but terror to evildoers.
– Proverbs 21:1-15 ESV

As human beings, we can be the masters of deceit and deception. Over time we can learn the art of spin, controlling what others think about us and manipulating how they perceive us. In fact, how we’re perceived by others can become the most important thing about us. Our external persona becomes our pseudo-personality. Perception becomes reality. After a while, we can even begin to believe our own PR. We can convince ourselves that the facade we’ve erected is real, not imaginary – that the aura we give off is authentic, not self-manufactured and fake.

But while we may fool others and even ourselves with our Academy-Award-winning ways, God remains unconvinced and unimpressed. He looks right past our plastic facade and sees into the very recesses of our souls. He examines our hearts.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2 ESV

The Hebrew word that is translated as “weighs” is actually a term for measuring, as in a balance scale. God places our hearts on one side of the scale and measures its real worth based on something of equal weight or worth. He doesn’t take into account any of the excess exterior trappings we’ve spent so much time creating and cultivating. He goes right to the heart of the matter – literally. God takes a look at the condition of our hearts and determines who we really are. If we allow Him. And sadly, we quickly discover that, rather than being the measure of all things, we are being measured by a holy and righteous God.

God X-rays our hearts and reveals what’s really going on under the shiny surface of our lives. He exposes our pride, anger, and arrogance. He shows us our selfishness and self-centeredness.

Haughty eyes, a proud heart,
    and evil actions are all sin. – Proverbs 21:4 NLT

He exposes to us our fears, faithlessness, spiritual adultery, and embarrassing weaknesses.

The Righteous One knows what is going on in the homes of the wicked;
    he will bring disaster on them. – Proverbs 21:12 NLT

But like a doctor examining a patient, God’s goal is not just to expose sickness. He wants to bring about healing. He desires to refocus our attention away from the surface issues of life and on to the hard reality of our heart health. God longs to heal our hearts so that we might truly be what He desires for us to be.

Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love
    will find life, righteousness, and honor. – Proverbs 21:21 NLT

We can pursue wealth, pleasure, popularity, and a host of other things, but they will never deliver what we need. We can attempt to ignore our hearts and live in a fairy tale land of false identity and fake reality, but we will never find joy, peace, and contentment. So, God examines our hearts and then gives us the results. But He also provides us with a prescription and a remedy for healing. As the Great Physician, He knows how to heal our hearts and restore our souls. But it begins with a thorough examination and a correct, sometimes shocking diagnosis. Once we accept His assessment and place ourselves under His loving, capable hands, healing can begin. Our hearts can be made whole again. The facade can come down, the false identity can be removed, and the man or woman God designed us to be can begin to reveal itself – from the inside out. And a heart that is in the right condition can begin doing what God has deemed as right.

The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just
    than when we offer him sacrifices. – Proverbs 21:3 NLT

But sadly, a lot of us spend a lot of time trying to keep God pleased. We view Him as some kind of divine Santa Clause, who’s making a list, and checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. So, if we want to keep Him happy, we better get busy doing nice things. And that can translate into everything from having a quiet time to memorizing Scripture, or doing acts of service and going to a Bible study or on a short-term mission trip. We can even believe that giving more money to the church will put us in good standing with God. And while there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, we can easily turn them into actions that we believe will earn us brownie points with God. And in doing so, we miss the point. When we make them personal sacrifices we offer on behalf of God in the hopes that He will notice and reward us favorably, they lose their meaning and we lose our focus.

King David understood this concept very well. He wrote, “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:16-17 NLT).

While God had commanded the people of Israel to offer sacrifices, what He was really looking for was an obedient heart. Jesus had harsh words for the religious leaders in His day.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law — justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides!” – Matthew 23:23-24 NLT

These men were adept at keeping the law and of making the proper sacrifices, but their hearts were not right. They were skilled at keeping the letter of the law but were oblivious to the real point behind the law: Doing justice, mercy, and faith.

It wasn’t supposed to be about their ability to keep laws, but about the motivation of their hearts. They were doing what they were doing out of a sense of self-righteousness and in the hopes that what they did would somehow earn them credit with God. But as we read in Proverbs, God is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer Him sacrifices. He is more focused on our hearts than our efforts. In the verse right before this one, Solomon writes, “People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart.”

God is able to see our inner motivation. He knows when we are doing what we are doing out of some sense of duty or simply in the hopes of earning His approval. The book of Micah contains these sobering words:

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

God’s desire is that our outer efforts be motivated by an inward transformation that He alone can bring about. As we submit to His authority over our lives and listen to the Holy Spirit’s direction, we begin to understand what it is that God would have us do. We begin to desire what He desires, love what He loves, and see the world as He sees it. We learn to walk in humility, not pride. We understand that our best efforts are never enough to earn points with God. He doesn’t need our sacrifices. He simply wants our hearts. And as He changes our hearts, we begin to do what is just and right. We act in ways that are in keeping with His heart and in accordance with His will. And He is pleased.

So much of what the book of Proverbs deals with has to do with outward conduct.

The way of the guilty is crooked,
    but the conduct of the pure is upright. – Proverbs 21:8 ESV

But it all begins in the heart.

The soul of the wicked desires evil;
    his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes. – Proverbs 21:10 ESV

Ungodly behavior can show up in a variety of forms, from a wife who likes to quarrel to a husband with a lying tongue and an arrogant attitude. The wicked are everywhere. And they all share the same problem: They each have unhealthy and unholy hearts. And that is an ailment only God can heal.

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.

Imitate God

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 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. Ephesians 5:1-5 ESV

Imitate God. At this point in his letter, Paul issues a lofty and seemingly impossible call to action. And yet, that’s been the theme he has been expressing from the very beginning.  what Paul has been suggesting throughout his letter. In the opening lines of chapter one, Paul reminded his readers that God had chosen them “before the foundation of the world” so that they might “be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). In other words, that they might by holy as He is holy. He prayed that their hearts would be enlightened, so that they might “know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:18 ESV). Paul wanted them to understand that God had a future in store for them that included their glorification. The day was coming when they would be sin-free and fully righteous. And he assured them of the security of that future by declaring, “God, being rich in mercymade us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4, 5-6 ESV). 

There had been a time when they had been “without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). But now they had been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). They were sons and daughters of God and, as such, they were to emulate and imitate their Heavenly Father. That is why Paul so strongly stressed their new relationship with God.

…you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… – Ephesians 2:19 ESV

As members of the body of Christ, they were being “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22 ESV). It was through the mystery of the church that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV). And Paul’s prayer was that they would understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (Ephesians 3:18 NLT) and “be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:19 NLT).

Paul had commanded the Ephesians: “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). According to Paul, God had identified the Ephesian believers as His own by placing His Spirit within them (Ephesians 4:30). So, they were to conduct their lives in such a way that they accurately reflected their status as God’s children.  And the greatest expression of their new divine nature was a life marked by Christ-like love.

 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. – Ephesians 5:2 NLT

Jesus had imitated His Father. In fact, Paul described Jesus as “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul described Jesus as “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT). And yet, thought Jesus was fully 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” (Philippians 2:6-7 NLT). In doing so, Jesus displayed His godly character. He obeyed the will of His Father by displaying the selfless, sacrificial love of His Father.

He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:3 NLT

Jesus always did exactly what His Father commanded Him to do. He gained strength from doing His Father’s will. That’s why He told His disciples, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). He told the Pharisees, “I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will” (John 5:30 NLT). He declared that He had come down from heaven to do the will of the One who had sent him (John 6:38). In His humanity, Jesus perfectly modeled what it means to imitate God.

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” – John 5:19 ESV

God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind (John 3:16). And Jesus laid down His life willingly, not under coercion.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:17-18 NLT

He was the visible, tangible expression of God’s love. He imitated God by loving as God loved. And Paul calls the Ephesians to “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ” (Ephesians 5:2 NLT). In a sense, Paul is stating that Christ-likeness equals godliness. To be like the Son is to be like the Father. To imitate Christ is to imitate God, because they are one.

But Paul wants his readers to know what imitating God looks like in everyday life, and he does so by listing those characteristics that display ungodliness.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. – Ephesians 5:3-4 NLT

People who display these kinds of qualities don’t look like God. Immorality, impurity, and greed are signs of godlessness, not godliness. They mark the lives of the unrepentant and unredeemed. They are diametrically opposed to a life of selfless, sacrificial love. Immorality involves lust – the desire to satisfy and fulfill selfish passions at the expense of others. Impurity has to do with moral and physical uncleanness. It describes the lives of the unsaved Gentiles.

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

And greed or covetousness is an insatiable desire for that which has been forbidden by God. In the end, it is a worship of self, which is why, in verse 5, Paul ties covetousness closely to idolatry. To covet another man’s wife is to believe that you deserve what belongs to another. Your passions and preferences take priority over the needs and desires of others. But Paul boldly and unapologetically states 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” (Ephesians 5:5 ESV). Those whose lives are marked by selfishness and self-indulgence were never really redeemed by God. They fail to display the divine nature that Jesus died to make possible. And their unrepentant behavior provides proof that they are unredeemed and still living as enemies of God. And this was not the first time Paul issued this warning against the unrighteous. He wrote the very same thing in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

And he repeated the same warning to the church in Galatia.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Paul is not threatening Christians with the loss of their salvation. He is simply emphasizing the expectation of spiritual transformation in the life of a believer. The indwelling presence of the Spirit of God will produce tangible evidence of a salvation in the form of increasing sanctification or Christ-likeness. The true believer will experience a supernatural transformation of life that shows up actions and attitudes. Their lives will model the character of Christ and, in doing so, will imitate 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.

 

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.