Called to Stand Out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


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The Mind of Christ.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV

Those who have placed their faith in Christ, accepting Him as their Savior from sin, have been given the Holy Spirit. His presence within us gives the capacity to think and act as Jesus did. We can live holy lives. We can discern the will of God and live according to it. We can hear the inner promptings of the Spirit of God and respond to them. But the natural or lost individual cannot. He or she lacks the Holy Spirit in their lives, so they are incapable of discerning spiritual truth. In fact, they come across as little more than foolishness to them. The message of the gospel seems silly and absurd. The idea of the resurrection is far-fetched and borders of fantasy. The concept of eternal punishment for sin is something they have a hard time grasping and accepting. All because they are non-spiritual. They lack the Spirit.

Paul tells us that “the spiritual person judges all things.” The Greek word he uses for “judges” is anakrinō and it means “to discern, evaluate, examine.” Those who have the Holy Spirit within them are able to discern or understand what He is doing in and around them. They have a spiritual perspective. The lost or non-spiritual individual does not have that capacity. When they look at a Christ-follower who is living in the power of the Holy Spirit, they cannot discern or understand his actions. They can’t comprehend the life of faith. It makes no sense to them. The paraphrase of this verse found in The Message puts it well. “Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God’s Spirit is doing, and can’t be judged by unspiritual critics.” In fact, they can and do judge us, but they cannot understand us. They think our actions are illogical. They see faith as a weakness or a crutch. They label Christians as unintelligent and the idea of a Savior for mankind as wishful thinking. They place all their hopes in this life. The physical, tangible world becomes their sole reality.

But we have the mind of Christ. Paul, quoting from Isaiah 40:13, writes, “Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” It is a rhetorical question and the answer is “no one.” And yet, while we cannot teach God anything and we cannot fully know the mind of God, we have been given the ability to comprehend and know His will. The apostle John writes, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). Jesus revealed God to man when He took on human flesh. But men refused to accept Him. They were incapable of recognizing who He was. Now the Holy Spirit reveals God to those in whom His dwells. His presence within us allows us to know God, to discern spiritual truths, and to think and act as Jesus did.

When we live under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we will be misunderstood. Our actions and attitudes will make no sense to those who are unsaved. Our joy in the midst of sorrow will seem strange to them. Our humility will come across as weakness. Our selflessness will appear as little more than lack of initiative. Jesus said that the world would hate us just as it hated Him. In spite of all the good that Jesus did, the world ended up despising Him because they could not understand Him. They were stuck with a natural, earthly perspective. They could not see Jesus for who He really was. In fact, a perfect illustration of this is found in the gospel of John. Jesus had fed thousands of people by miraculously multiplying five loaves of bread and two small fish. The people were blown away by what Jesus did. Because their physical needs were met in such an incredible way, they were ready to make Jesus their king. But John writes, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15 ESV). The next day, these same people came to Jesus expecting to be fed again. But Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:26-27 ESV). Jesus began to teach them about the “bread of life.” He claimed to be the bread that came out of heaven to give life to the world, but they simply wanted physical bread. They wanted their physical appetites fed. But Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 14:35-37 ESV). As hard as it may be for some to accept, Jesus indicates that without the Father’s help, it is impossible for men to accept Jesus for who He is. They are blinded by their own sin. The Jews who heard Jesus speak that day only saw Him as the son of Mary and Joseph. They could not understand what He meant when He said He was the bread that came down from heaven. So Jesus explained to them, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44 ESV). It is the Spirit of God that makes possible our salvation. He must open our eyes and provide us with the capacity to see Jesus as Savior. But He is also the one who makes it possible for us to experience sanctification. He gives us the capacity to live in obedience to God’s will, providing us with the mind of Christ and a discernment to understand spiritual things. We have the mind of Christ in the form of the Spirit of Christ. So we can live like Christ.

And Yet, God.

But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.Ezra 9:8-9 ESV

Ezra 9:6-15

Ezra was in mourning over the sorry state of the people of Judah. They had been returned the land by God after 70 years in captivity due to their own sinfulness, and here they were, still living in rebellion against Him. Ezra, having just returned to Judah from the land of Babylon, was appalled and devastated by what he saw. So he took it upon himself to confess the corporate sins of the people to God. Ezra was personally ashamed for their conduct. As a scribe, an expert in the Mosaic law, he was well aware that what they were doing was in direct violation of God’s commands. And he knew that God would not take their disobedience lightly. The most amazing thing to Ezra was that the people were doing all of this in spite of God’s amazing grace and mercy. He had shown them favor. He had taken a remnant of them and arranged for them to return to the land to rebuild the temple and to restore the city of Jerusalem. God had not forsaken them, but had fulfilled His promise to restore them to the land after their 70 years of captivity were complete. They hadn’t deserved it or in any way earned it. Even their time as slaves in Babylon had been marked by continuing rebellion against God. They had regularly worshiped false gods. They had continued to reject and rebel against the one true God. And yet, He had kept His word. He had fulfilled His promise.

Ezra did not take God’s grace lightly. He was shocked that the people who had experienced that grace could so easily snub their noses at God and blatantly live in open rebellion to His commands. Their lives were marked by compromise. Rather than separate themselves from the other nations that had taken up residence in the land during their absence, they gladly coexisted with them, marrying off their sons and daughters to them. Not only that, they compromised their allegiance to God by taking on the false gods of their neighbors, diluting their faith and offending the very One who had rescued them from captivity.

In a very real way, this parallels the experience of so many of us as believers. God has redeemed us from slavery to sin. He has made it possible for us to be restored to a right relationship with Him, and yet we find ourselves comingling with the world around us. Rather than remaining separate and set apart, we determine to blend in and, in the process, end up compromising our convictions. Many of us, having been set free by God, find ourselves enslaved to the world. We seek our self-worth and satisfaction from what the world can offer. We long to be accepted by the world. Rather than stand out for our faith, we prefer to blend in. And slowly, steadily, we begin to make compromises and concessions. We find ourselves rationalizing our behavior and excusing our actions. We refuse to accept Jesus’ warning that we would be hated by the world. Instead of living as strangers and sojourners in this land, recognizing that we are citizens of another kingdom, we choose to get to cozy and comfortable with this world. We gladly adopt their ways and accept their standards as our own. The convictions of the culture around us slowly begin to influence and infect us, and we begin to lose our distinctiveness. Chosen and set apart by God, we find ourselves looking more and more like the world around us. Our distinction as Christians becomes more a label than a lifestyle. That was the problem Ezra encountered when he arrived in Judah. The saints had lost their saltiness. The intensity of their light had diminished and they were close to being overwhelmed by the surrounding darkness.

And yet, God was still showing them favor. He was still extending to them mercy. He had sent back Ezra with the sole task of reestablishing His law in the land. He had allowed them to rebuild the temple. He would eventually send back Nehemiah with another wave of exiles to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem and reoccupy the city. God was not done. And He is not done today. In spite of all we see happening around us and the distinct feeling that the darkness is overwhelming us, God is on His throne. He is still in charge. But He is looking for a remnant of His people who will boldly stand apart from the crowd and speak up for the truth. He is calling His people to come back to Him, to reject the ways of this world and renew their commitment to live lives of holiness. For the believer, compromise is deadly. And the temptation to do so is greater than it has ever been. The world wants to silence our voices, stifle our faith, compromise our convictions, and distract us from our devotion to God. But we must never forget that God has redeemed us from the world. We can live in it and yet not become part of it. We have been called to make a difference, not blend in. We have been saved so that we might tell others of the truth regarding man’s sin and God’s plan of salvation. Some of us have compromised our faith. Others of us have allowed ourselves to succumb to defeat and despair. We live as if all hope is lost and the enemy is winning. But our God reigns. He wins in the end. His victory is assured. We must live like we believe it. All is not lost. But it is time for the called out to stand up and to live out their faith.

Romans 6:1-11

New Life In Christ – NOW!

Romans 6:1-11

When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:10-11 NLT

Jesus Christ didn’t just die as our substitute, He died as our representative. He stood in our place during His trials and the scourgings that accompanied them. He took the ridicule and verbal abuse that should have been aimed at us. He suffered the pain and agony of having his hands and feet pierced with nails – meant for us. He hung on a cross as a representative of all mankind, bearing the brunt of the penalty for their sins, not His own. That day, we died along with Christ. We were joined with Him in his death. Paul reminds his readers that when they experienced New Testament water baptism, they were symbolically buried with Christ. The very act of baptism is a public testimony of the believer’s belief in and dependence upon the sacrificial death of Jesus on their behalf. But Paul goes on to emphasize that as important as the death of Jesus was, it means nothing without His resurrection. “For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the power of the Father, now we also may live new lives” (Romans 6:4 NLT). Paul is stressing our progressive sanctification – our ongoing transformation into the image of Christ through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

The real point Paul seems to be trying to stress in this section is that, because of our identification with Christ in both His death and resurrection, we have the capacity to live new lives. “We know that our old sinful natures were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6 NLT). That’s the crux of Paul’s argument. Because of our association with Christ in His death and resurrection, we have been set free from the power of sin in our lives. And we should KNOW that, not just intellectually, but experientially. Our experience should confirm for us that we have a new power available to us that makes a life of righteousness possible. And that power is the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks of this life-transforming power later on in this same letter. “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Romans 8:11 NLT). That’s why Paul can go on to say, “Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do” (Romans 8:12 NLT). Just as Christ was raised from the dead, never to die again, so too have we been raised to new life, never to have to be enslaved to sin again. Jesus, in His resurrected state, lives for the glory of God, and so should we. Our new lives should be a testimony to the power of God in our lives. Our newfound ability to live holy and righteous lives should be a regular reminder of the reality of Christ’s death and the Spirit’s power. Which is why Paul reminds us, “So you also should consider yourselves dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11 NLT). We have to constantly remind ourselves that Christ’s death paid for our sins, but His resurrection provided the power we need to live free from sin in our daily lives. We have not only been saved, we are being saved every day of our lives as we allow the Holy Spirit to empower us and provide us with the strength we need to put our own sinful natures to death. It is a progressive, ongoing process that will never be complete until God calls us home or Christ returns for His bride, the church. Paul started this section with a simple, rhetorical question that needs no answer. “Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 2:2 NLT).

Father, I want to live the life You’ve called me to live in the power You’ve provided to make it possible. I have been crucified with Christ. My sins have been paid for. My debt has been paid. I have been set free from slavery to sin and its rule over my life, but the truth is that I can so easily find myself falling back into old habits and living as if I am still a slave. I don’t utilize the power of the Holy Spirit in my life like I should. I try to live the Christian life in my own strength and it always produces the same ineffective results. Continue to show me how to live in Your power and not my own. The same power that raised Your Son from the dead resides within me and I want my life to reflect His presence and power in my life more and more with each passing day. Amen.

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