I’ve become more and more convinced in recent months that Christians and The Church as a whole is really missing the mark in their Christian walks. We call ourselves Christians, yet when you look at our lives it tells a far different story. I’m not talking about going to church on Sundays, or putting money in the offering plate or basket, whatever it may be. I’m not even talking about those “Christians” or even “Pastors” who are involved in the church programs and the ministries of the church in a major way. Many times people spend a few hours a week doing things in the name of Christ and think they are doing the Lord a service, feel really good about themselves, and then live out the rest of their week doing whatever they want, or living like the rest of the world. But that’s not what God desires of us, that’s not what Christ demanded of us, and that isn’t what the text we read today is going to say either.
A few weeks ago in speaking about the Corinthian church my pastor said that they were, “seeing how many of the world’s ways they could fit into their lives and still be Christians”. I think that is really the state of the Church today, especially here in America. And we seem to think its ok. Why is that? I think mainly because we are measuring ourselves by the wrong standard. We are looking at ourselves compared to other Christians as opposed to looking at our lives in comparison to how Christ told us we ought to live and according to how the Word of God tells us.
How many of us who call ourselves Christians, who show up to church on Sundays do our “worship” thing, then go home and don’t think about God the rest of the day. How many of us go to work on Mondays or hang out with friends on the weekends and talk just like they do, think just like they do, and in general live like they do. How many of us watch things on television we shouldn’t, look at things online we shouldn’t, speak down to our spouses, and fail to show patience and grace with our children? I would be willing to say a majority of “Christians” fall into at least one of these categories, if not several or even all of them. But is this the way it ought to be? Well let’s look at the text and see what the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit tells us. When many people are making resolutions this New Year, perhaps we should pray to God to pour out His Spirit upon us and to help us to live lives that truly honor and glorify Him. To live lives completely submitted to Him. After all, that is what He commands us to do.
The first thing Paul tells his audience is that they are no longer to “walk as the Gentiles do”. We all know the difference between a physical Jew and a physical Gentile. The way we use this term today, a Jew is a physical descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Or one who practices the religion of Judaism. These things make a Jew a Jew. Everyone else is a Gentile. This was pretty much the case in the days of Paul as well, but when you read Paul’s writings, and learn about his theology, I don’t believe that is what he believed and I don’t believe that is what he is saying here. If you read Paul’s writings, especially Romans 2:28-29, and even here in Ephesians 2, you will see that Paul thought of a Jew as anyone who pleased God, one who was one of the covenant people of God, or one of the chosen people of God. I believe in a since this has always been the true definition of a Jew. So according to Paul’s definition, anyone who is a Christian, or a partaker of the “New Covenant”, one who is a believer in Jesus Christ and one who has put their faith in Him, is really a Jew. Remember also that Paul’s audience isn’t made up exclusively of physical Jews. Again we can see this by reading Ephesians 2.
Notice what Paul says. That they are no longer to walk as the Gentiles or as those who are not God’s people. He says basically that they are ignorant of the things of God, because of their hard heartedness. (Verse 18 ) He tells his audience that they are not.(verse 20) And that they are to put off their old self. (Verse 22)We as Christians likewise are not to walk as the world walks. Those of the world are ignorant to the ways of God, but we are not. If we have professed to be Christians then at some point we have heard the Gospel, and we have heard the truth that is in Christ. I know all of us here have heard the truth of Christ preached, and have read the Word of God, so none of us are ignorant of God and His ways, or how he desires us to live our lives. So we too as Christians must put off our old self, and walk as a people who are called out. We are to walk as the people of God are to walk. 1 Peter 2:9-10 tells us that, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people..”
I think that is a big problem. We don’t have an understanding of who we are as God’s people. We forget what it is to be a Christian. Being a Christian isn’t about joining a religion or living a good clean life. Sure that is part of it, but that isn’t what it is. The fact is if you are a Christian, you have been called of God to live your life for Him. You have been called out of darkness so that you can proclaim who Christ is, so that you can glorify Him. I believe a proper understanding of this fact will go a long way in helping us to live out our lives and our callings in the right way.
Like I said though, living a good clean life is part of it. If you aren’t living your life in a way that is God honoring, and different from the rest of the world then you cannot proclaim Christ and you cannot glorify Him. We as Christians cannot just proclaim him with our words alone, we must also proclaim Him with our lives. So obviously if we understand this, then there are some things that we must avoid, and some things that Paul tells us we must do.
First Paul tells us that we must avoid sensuality, and every type of impurity. (Verse 19) I don’t believe I need to expound on what this is. He tells us that if we are angry, not to sin.(Verse 26) I really believe it is impossible as a human to not get angry. Sometimes it’s okay to be angry. But it is not ok to stay angry. I believe what Paul is talking about in verse 26, is that we must be forgiving. Notice he says to “not let the sun go down on your anger.” Paul says that we are not to steal(Verse 28). He also says in that same verse that we are to work, and not just so that we can provide for ourselves, but so that we can share with those that are in need. This is definitely a lesson that Christians need to learn. He tells us that we must have no “corrupting talk” This could be gossiping, insulting others, or even cussing.. In chapter 5, verse 4 Paul tells us not to have any filthiness or foolish talk. How many of us at work or around our friends have told the occasional off color joke, or have even laughed at one. This doesn’t honor God. Our speech ought to build others up, and give grace to all those who hear our words. (Verse 29) Paul tells us to put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and slander and malice. (Verse 31) Chapter 5 verse 18, Paul tells us to not get drunk. I can’t tell you how many Christians I know who think its okay to go out on the weekends and party and drink. This is clearly not the case. Again, as Christians we are to live our lives differently from the rest of the world.
Paul tells us in 4:32, and 5:1-2 how we are to live. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
How can we imitate God you might ask. Well it tells us in that same passage, to walk in love, to give ourselves up for others, and to be a pleasing sacrifice to God. Romans 12:1 says, “…to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” This means that our bodies are to be used for God’s glory, and we do that by not only making sacrifices for others, and helping others, but also living lives of purity. I know when you use the term “purity” it has a sexual connotation. This is surely part of it, but it has a much broader meaning. Verses 3-5 has a very strong statement, and one that I think ought to frighten many people within the church. It tells us that those who are sexually immoral, who are impure, and covetous should not be found within the church. Read what it says in verse 5. “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Read what it says in Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Is that not a frightening statement? It ought to be. How many of those things do we see amongst those who call themselves Christians today? From my personal experience quite a lot. In Ephesians 5:6 it tells us that those who practice these things will experience the wrath of God. In verse 7 it tells us to not associate with people who do these things, because those are our old ways. So we must be very careful who we associate with. Paul tells us in verse 8 that now we are children of light, so we ought to walk as children of light.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” So if you have put your faith in Christ, if you are a Christian, then you must no longer walk according to your old ways. You must no longer walk according to the ways of the world, or practice the things that those who are not Christians do. You have been made into a new creation. You have been called out to live a separate life, a life called out. Look back to what it says in verse 2 of Chapter 5, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Why did Christ give himself up for us? Look back to 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” What does that mean? The love of Christ ought to control us. He died for us, so we should die also. That is what Paul means when he tells us to put off our old self in Ephesians 4:22. He died so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but we are to live for him who died for our sake, Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:10 tells us to try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Well how can we know what pleases God? First of all, read the Word of God. It is amazing to me how many people who claim to be Christians don’t read their Bibles. How are you going to partake of the promises of God, or live in a way that is pleasing to God if you don’t know what He has said. You learn that by reading the Bible. Not only that, we have to pray. It uses the word discern, and I think that is a very important word. A huge part of discernment, probably the most important part is prayer and seeking the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe you can truly understand the Bible, and understand the ways of God unless He Himself reveals it to you. He does this by the power of the Holy Spirit, and drawing us closer to Him through prayer. Again, I am amazed at how many Christians don’t pray.
When we read the Word of God, and when we pray and learn what pleases God, we are to live our lives accordingly. And not in unfruitful ways, according to the ways of darkness, or according to the ways of the world. This being said many Christians do and have gone astray. Many Christians have stopped walking with God, and are asleep. I believe this is what Paul means in Ephesians 5:14 that we are to expose evil, and wake up those Christians who have gone astray. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” There are also many folks who aren’t Christians yet, that will come into our lives, or who are already in our lives. We must also do our best to wake them up from their sleep.
Verse 15 tells us to, “walk, not as unwise but as wise.” What is true wisdom? Psalm 111:10 says that, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” So it all starts by knowing who God is, and living accordingly. Again verse 17 tells us to , “understand what the will of the Lord is. Again that comes from praying, seeking the Holy Spirit, and reading the Word of God. I believe a big problem we have within the church, and within our own Christian lives is we don’t take the words of Jesus literally. We think of everything as hyperbole or as a metaphor. He can’t possibly expect us to live our lives that way. Well what if He does? Are we still willing to follow Him? Are we willing to really put Him first in our lives? Are we willing to actually forsake all of our possessions if that is what He calls us to do? Are we really willing to love our neighbor and to forgive those who have wronged us? Are we truly willing to die to ourselves so that we can live for Him? We better be, because those are all things that Jesus has told us we must do.
So as a Church, and as The Church how are we to live together, and treat each other? Paul sums it up for us in Verses 19-21. We must come together and worship with our hearts, not just our mouths. (Verse 19) We are to give thanks always, remember that we deserve nothing that God has given us. (Verse 20) Therefore we all should be working together, be unified, and build each other up knowing that none of us deserve what He has blessed us with. All that we have received, meaning His love and His grace. The right to be called His children is all because of what Jesus Christ did for us. That ought to cause us to take our focus off or ourselves and on Jesus Christ and building up His church. Focus on self and personal desires will always divide a church.
And lastly we are to submit to one another. (Verse 21) Remember the example that Christ gave us when He washed the feet of His disciples. More importantly remember the example he gave us all by dying on the cross in order that we might be forgiven for our sins, and be reconciled to the Father. Remember that it is only because of that, that we can have eternal life, and be called Christians.
We just finished celebrating Christmas. Christmas ought to be a time of celebrating the birth of our Savior. It seems though that is no longer the case in our world. Instead Christmas has become a day to celebrate our greed and desire for things. But that shouldn’t be the way it is for Christians. As Christians we must celebrate the coming of our Lord every day. We do this by living our lives for Him and to His glory. Remember the true miracle of Christmas isn’t just that God took on human flesh and was born, and placed in a manger. That isn’t why he came to earth. He came to earth so that He could die for our sins, and ultimately he could be born in our hearts. We marvel that God would humble Himself to be born in the filth of a barn or a cave. But that filth is nothing compared to the filth that is in each of our hearts. If God was willing to do that for us, is it really too much to ask that we should submit our lives to Him. It isn’t easy. Actually it is impossible to do it on our own. We must have Him, and His Holy Spirit, and we must be obedient to follow Him. Let’s begin today, and resolve for the New Year to seek Him and to live our lives for His glory.