The Christian Life Explained

The Christian Life Explained

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching Ephesians 5:7-21 in our series through the book of Ephesians.  As we consider the life practical outworking of Christian doctrine into everyday life, Paul does a great job, over the course of three chapters, of laying out examples of what Christianity in action looks like.  In this section of verses, we get a glimpse into three areas of the Christian life, all of which are vital.

Christian Life: A Life of Light in a Dark World

Christians are called to a life of light.  As we live in a dark world where people enjoy the sins of the shadows, God has planned for us to shine the light into this world of sin.  Paul explains that we were all darkness, but we are now light in the Lord.  He does a good job of pointing to the past tense life and contrasting it with the present tense reality in Jesus.  We are commanded to be distinct from the world.

Paul goes on to command the church at Ephesus to expose the unfruitful works of darkness.  This work of exposing sin is not a pleasant experience for the Christian, because it will result in being labeled negative, narrow-minded, and various other choice descriptions.  However, it’s obvious that light cannot be hidden.  As we note from Matthew 5:14, as a city on a hillside cannot be hidden in the darkness of night, neither can a Christian be hidden in a world of darkness.  With both life and lips, we are called to expose such sins.

Christian Decisions:  A Call to Wisdom

Life is full of decisions, and we must make sure that we are exercising wisdom from God as opposed to worldly wisdom.  The world’s wisdom will run contrary to God’s wisdom.  Paul points to three specific areas where we must exercise wisdom:

  1. The use of time
  2. Pursuit of God’s Will
  3. The use of wine

In each of these areas, God’s wisdom is necessary.  Time cannot be recycled, God’s will should not be confused with our own fleshly pursuits, and wine can lead to drunkenness which is debauchery.  It’s essential to avoid missing the mark in any of these areas.  Although wine was a common drink in Paul’s day, the mixture of alcohol content was quite different.  Even children would drink wine in Paul’s day, because they would often mix it 20 parts water to 1 part wine.  Paul points out that wisdom is necessary here.

The calling of the Christian is to be led by the Spirit of God.  If we will make the best use of time, pursue God’s will, and avoid abusing wine — we must be under the constant control of the Holy Spirit as opposed to other things.  The idea here in this text is to “be being filled” with the Spirit.  The word in the Greek has in mind a passive process whereby the Spirit is working in the hearts of people who are simply living in submission to His control.  We are called to position ourselves under the control and guidance of God.

Christian Worship: Led by the Spirit of God

As we are led by the Spirit of God, we will have a life of worship that honors Him.  What does this look like in the life of a church?  First, Paul points to the area of singing.  Interestingly enough, we are called to address one another in our singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as we make melody in our hearts.  There is both a horizontal and vertical aspect to singing the gospel.  Both are necessary and vital in the life of the church.  This is an area where congregational music and the importance of it should be clearly seen from the pages of Scripture.

The vocabulary used here should not be chopped up and made too distinct.  It’s difficult to separate the different types of songs that Paul is referring to here, but there are some notable differences.  From Old Testament psalms to more festive arrangements used in worship, but the point is clear – the church was using different styles and different types of songs.  We would be wise to do the same in our day as well.

This Spirit led worship leads us to a spirit of thanksgiving.  We are reminded of our salvation as we sing the gospel.  It causes us to think about how we were once darkness but now we are light in the Lord and this was not our own doing, it was the gift of God so that none of us may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).  It should cause us to be thankful for the Spirit’s power to enable us to live the Christian life.  We will likewise be thankful for the church and the value of such a gift to us as Christians.

Finally, Paul makes a point that we are to live in submission to one another.  This is vital for the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace to be present in the church.  We are not islands.  We are not lone ranger Christians.  We are to be involved in a local, tangible, visible New Testament church as present, visible, and active members.  We are to submit to Christ (John 14:15), to elders (Heb. 13:17), and to the church as a whole.

As you look at your life and examine yourself in contrast to Ephesians 5:7-21, do you see yourself as a true Christian?  Is the fruit of the Spirit evident in your life?  Do you constantly live as a rebel to Godly authority?  Do you resist accountability among the church?


Our Call to Imitate God

Our Call to Imitate God

Yesterday, I had the privilege to preach Ephesians 5:1-7 in our morning worship service.  As we continued through the book of Ephesians, we focused on the first seven verses of chapter five on our calling to imitate God.  What better example could we have to imitate than God?  Although to the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:11), Paul said to follow him as he was following Christ, in this letter to the church at Ephesus, he directed them to imitate God.

As we examine ourselves, and it’s necessary to do so, we must make sure that we are not imitators of the world.  We are commanded as Christians to mimic God as children who would mimic their parents.  In other words, we are to exemplify the communicable attributes of God in our daily lives as Christians.  In the preceding chapter, we see the need to forgive and show love toward one another.  We learn to do that by examining God.  If we want to know God and imitate Him, we should spend time studying Christ.

Once again, we see Paul pointing to the danger of following in the footsteps of the culture.  When we consider the culture of Ephesus, its obvious why Paul was concerned.  The entire city was given over to horrible sins of the flesh.  The city of Ephesus was engaged in sexual perversion and idolatry.  Ephesus was located on the coastal region of modern day Turkey. It had four main roads that came from different directions and due to its location – it became known as the “gateway to Asia.”  It has been labeled as “the Vanity Fair of the Ancient World.”

The city of Ephesus was also the home of the Temple of Artemis or the goddess known as Diana. The Temple was filled with a shrine and a bank. The goddess Diana was a multi-breasted idol that was said to have fallen from the heavens. She was worshipped through prostitution along with other idols that were crafted in the city of Ephesus by tradesmen. In fact, we find that the Apostle Paul disrupted their trade through his preaching when he was there – resulting in a city wide riot.  The city was so bad that the philosopher Heraclitus, also known as the weeping philosopher, once said, “No one could live in Ephesus and not weep over its immorality.”

Here, Paul warns the church in Ephesus regarding two specific sins:

  1. Sexual Immorality
  2. Sins of the Tongue

As Paul addresses the sin of sexual immorality, he also covers the subject of covetousness (idolatry) which was closely connected to the sexual practices of the day in Ephesus.  As he addressed the sexual sins, he used two specific Greek words:

  1. Sexual Immorality = πορνεία – This is the Greek term meaning sexual sin, including heterosexual and homosexual sins alike. This term has in mind – fornication, prostitution, and sexual misconduct. The term has in mind lewdness and sexual sin.
  2. Impurity = ἀκαθαρσία – Any substance that is filthy or dirty, a state of moral corruption, immorality, vileness. This word has in mind deeds, words, thoughts, and intents of the heart. Anything that’s filthy and dirty – avoid it.

The point was clear, God expected the church in a sinful city like Ephesus to remain pure.  He then moved on to address the sins of the tongue.  In order to do so, he used three specific Greek terms:

  1. Filthiness = αἰσχρότης – behavior that flouts social and moral standards, shamefulness, obscenity.
  2. Foolish Talk = μωρολογία – Foolish or silly talk. Coming from the word – moros (foolish or stupid – ENGLISH – Moron).
  3. Crude Joking = εὐτραπελία – facetiousness, coarse jesting involving vulgar expressions and indecent content, vulgar speech / talk. A wittiness in telling coarse jokes.

Just as the church should remain pure in sexual practices, the followers of Christ are likewise commanded to remain pure in speech.  In our present culture, the sexual sins and depraved speech patterns often spill over into the church community as well.  This is something that we must continually resist and guard against.  When we see t-shirts that read, “I Love Jesus But I Cuss a Little” — we must remember the words of Paul to the church at Ephesus.  The idea that edgy speech patterns are cool and hip and acceptable among the Christian church is simply not true.  The culture may accept it, but God doesn’t.

Paul calls the church to walk in love and to engage in the practice of thanksgiving.  We should be thankful for the gift of marriage, intimacy within marriage, and speech that can be used to glorify God.  Paul finishes in verses 5-7 with a sobering warning—reminding the church of Ephesus that anyone who practices an unbroken pattern of sexual immorality and depraved speech will have no place in the Kingdom of God.  Instead, the wrath of God will consume them.

What about you?  What about your spiritual life?  Do you imitate God or the world?  Is your Christianity real or counterfeit?

The Sufficient Word for Evangelism

The Sufficient Word for Evangelism

Yesterday, I preached from Luke 16:19-31 in a special sermon that would setup our evening evangelism series that kicked off last night.  The purpose of the sermon was to point people to the reality of death, the certainty of eternity, and to point people to the sufficient Word of God for evangelism.

In Luke 16:19-31, we find a parable that was told by our Lord Jesus Christ.  He provided us with a story that illustrates the sober reality of death.  In this story, we see two men —one was rich and the other was poor.  Yet, as we read the story, we see that both died.  Death was not partial to either of the two based on social status, material wealth, or health.  Both of the men in this story died.

Jesus also points out that although both died, they went to two contrasting places for eternity.  The man of poverty was taken immediately to the side of Abraham.  This depicts the place of paradise – ultimately that of heaven.  The rich man who died was buried, and immediately we see that he is in hades in utter torment.

As the story unfolds, we find that the self-centered rich man requesting for Lazarus to take one drop of water and place it on his tongue to take away his pain.  When that request was denied, he then turned to the awful reality of his five brothers who would soon be joining him in the flames of God’s wrath.  He looked to Abraham and made another request.  He asked if he would send Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his five brothers so that they would not come to that awful place of torment too.

Abraham’s response to the rich man in this story that Jesus told is striking.  In fact, many people miss this because they are focused on the flames of God’s wrath and the other details that seem to overshadow this truth.  Abraham takes this opportunity to point to the sufficiency of Scripture.  Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29).

Immediately, the rich man who apparently is still arrogant in his attitude begins to argue with Abraham.  He said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (Luke 16:30).  The depraved rich man was in no place to argue with Abraham, but still blind at heart and arrogant in his mindset, he disagreed with the clear doctrine of sufficiency.

Abraham’s response takes the spotlight and once again places it squarely upon the doctrine of sufficiency.  Abraham said, “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).  The point was clearly articulated.  No matter what sign or what statement was made to his brothers, even if someone was raised from the dead to give a warning, if they were not willing to hear the clear testimony of Scripture, nothing else would work.

This shatters the heart of pragmatism in gospel ministry.  This statement of Abraham strengthens our resolve to do the work of an evangelist with assurance that the results are not resting upon our abilities.  God’s Word is sufficient to speak and by the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures pierce people’s heart bringing them to a place of repentance and faith in Christ.  Therefore, we don’t need to cling to stories such as Heaven Is For Real or other “heavenly tourism” books.  The Bible is sufficient.  Nothing else is necessary to communicate the truth of the gospel to sinners.

As we consider this story that Jesus told, we must recognize that we have access to the Scriptures that Abraham was speaking of in response to the rich man’s request.  We have brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, co-workers and friends who are on their way to hell.  Although the rich man was unable to go to his brothers, we can go to our friends and relatives.  We don’t need a person to be raised from the dead or another miraculous sign to assist us in sharing the hope of salvation because we have a sufficient book —God’s Word.

Will you communicate the gospel to people this week?  Will you share the hope of salvation with your friends and family?  They need to hear the gospel.  God has sent you.

Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Possible Warning and the Impossible Truth

The Possible Warning and the Impossible Truth

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching from Ephesians 4:30 in our series through the book of Ephesians. As we’ve been moving through the book as a church on Sunday mornings, the section spanning from Ephesians 4:17-32 is focused on living the Christian life. If the first three chapters are focused on the doctrine of salvation, chapters 4-6 serve as a practical guide to helping us live out the Christian faith.

Although we covered Ephesians 4:30 in our previous sermon, I wanted to spend one week focused primarily upon the truths that we see in this single verse. Contained in this one verse are two crucial truths that we must not forget.

It Is Possible to Grieve God

Unlike the impersonal gods that litter the landscape of human history, the Triune God of Scripture is not impersonal. The doctrine of divine impassibility declares that God doesn’t feel emotion, but as we read the pages of Scripture, we see that our God not only feels emotion, but He has likewise chosen to reveal that truth to us.

Specifically in this verse, we see that Paul instructs the church at Ephesus and the surrounding cities to refrain from grieving the Holy Spirit. It’s important to recognize that the Holy Spirit is not in impersonal force. He is the third Person of the Godhead. He is grieved (vexed, offended) by specific choices that we make.

The word translated, Grieve, comes from the Greek term, λυπέω which means, “to cause severe mental or emotional distress, vex, irritate, offend, insult.“ Just as Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus and was angered at the profaning of God’s temple, so is the Holy Spirit grieved at the sins of God’s children.

Specific ways in which the Holy Spirit is grieved include:

1. Sinful living
2. Unbiblical doctrines
3. Unhealthy focus upon the Spirit above the Father and Son in worship
4. Seeking and engaging in extrabiblical revelations
5. Avoiding the ordinary means of grace

As our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we must consider how we speak, how we worship among the church, our relationships within the church, and our heart toward authority (within the church and to God Himself). Are we guilty of grieving God?

It Is Impossible to Lose Your Salvation

Although it’s possible to grieve God through sinful choices we make, it’s impossible to lose the salvation that God has given to His children. The second half of Ephesians 4:30 clearly says, “by whom you were sealed until the day of redemption.”

The word, sealed, comes from the Greek term, σφραγίζω meaning, ”To provide with a seal and security measure. To close up tight and seal up. To mark with aseal of identification.” In ancient days in the Roman culture, such seals were used for animals to mark property and identify ownership. It was also used in such manners as a king sending a letter that was sealed with mark of the king on wax, demonstrating ownership and authority of the king himself.

When this word is used in relation to our redemption, it’s proof of ownership (see Eph. 1:13-14) and the ultimate guarantee of our present and future salvation in Jesus Christ. It should be future noted that the phrase “until the day of redemption” is a clear reference to the return of Christ when God will bring all things to a final culmination in Jesus. We have this sure promise that if we have been saved, we will remain saved. Salvation is of the LORD according to Jonah. Just as we see in Romans 8:28-30 and John 10:28-29, it’s impossible to lose the salvation that we have received from God.

To suggest that we can lose our salvation is not only an unbiblical doctrine that grieves the Holy Spirit, but it’s also extremely arrogant to think that any human being has the ability to keep themselves saved. In short, if it were possible to lose our salvation, not only would every Christian fail, but the total population of Christians would fail before the sunrise tomorrow morning.

How do we explain people like Judas in Scripture? It’s clear that certain people professed faith in Christ but then walked away. As 1 John 2:19 clearly teaches, such people were never truly converted in the first place. By walking away they demonstrate that they were never the children of God in the beginning.

As we look at Ephesians 4, we must remember the importance of pursuing unity within the church. To be a rogue Christian is to behave like a non-Christian and such behavior grieves God. He will not allow us to stay there. We must not stay there. If you continue to sin and do not receive the correction of God, you prove yourself to be something other than a Christian—whatever you may be.

How do you know that you’re a Christian? Do you have the fruit of the Spirit flowing out of your life or does your life look more like the world?

Discipleship: The Neglected Commission

Discipleship: The Neglected Commission

We are right to teach the Great Commission of Jesus to His followers found in Matthew 28:18-20.  It’s essential for the church of Jesus to be active in the work of evangelism and missions.  As a pastor, I’ve preached many sermons on the subject of personal evangelism and global missions.  However, when was the last time you paused to consider the actual wording of the Great Commission?

There’s actually two components given by Jesus to His people in the Great Commission, and one is greatly neglected.  One commission involves reaching unbelievers with the good news of Jesus, but the second commission involves teaching those who follow Christ in sound biblical doctrine.  Just as both wings on any airplane are mandatory for flight, so are both aspects of the Great Commission to the mission of the Church.  We can’t accomplish the Great Commission without faithful teaching.

Defining Discipleship

The very word disciple means learner.  In order to be a disciple of Jesus, one has to be willing to learn about Jesus and from Jesus’ own teachings (Rom. 10:17).  The evangelical church is filled with people who want to be busy doing things for Jesus, but at times those same people neglect learning.  People in the church would often be more interested in reaching unbelievers in Zambia, Africa or the mountains of Ecuador with the gospel than they would to submit themselves to pastors and become learners of God’s Word.  Therein is one of the critical errors of today’s evangelical church.

Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

The word, “teaching” comes from the Greek term, “διδάσκω.”  It means to impart instruction or instill knowledge. There are two important components to discipleship in the Christian life.  One aspect involves disciples learning truth by receiving biblical teaching.  As we look at the early Christians, we see immediately after Peter’s famous sermon at Pentecost, the new disciples were baptized.  Immediately thereafter, they are found submitting themselves to the teaching ministry of the apostles (Acts 2:42).

The second aspect of discipleship involves followers of Jesus investing in the lives of others.  Titus 2 provides a great model of the older training the younger.  Jesus Himself took a small group of men and poured into them.  It should be noted that His discipleship model was not merely pizza and video games.  Jesus was a powerful preacher and teacher of God’s Word.  The ministry model of Jesus was built upon far more than gimmicks and tricks.  His ministry was not a man-centered humanitarian ministry—it was a gospel teaching ministry.  Unless we want to be learners, we can’t be disciples.  Unless we first learn, we can’t disciple others.  Beware of the one who wants to teach others but has very little passion to be taught.

The First Mark of an Authentic Church

If we look at the early church, we see an imperfect group of Jesus followers who were learning how to worship, serve, love, reach, and teach through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The first and authentic mark of the church is that of true biblical preaching.  If the church is not being built through faithful preaching and teaching, all other activities, ministries, and service will be in vain.  Just as the early church was built upon sound biblical teaching, so should our modern day evangelical church as well.

Although we must emphasize a robust preaching and teaching ministry, we must not neglect faithful service.  Andrew Davis, in his excellent book titled, An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness, writes:

The Church needs to reclaim a Bible-saturated, Spirit-drenched emphasis on both of these infinite journeys, learning that they are absolutely intertwined. It is impossible for the Church to make progress externally to the ends of the earth if there are no Christians mature enough to pay the price to go as missionaries and martyrs. And it is impossible to make genuine progress in sanctification if the people only read good Christian books and stay in classrooms, but refuse to get out into the world as witnesses. These journeys are mutually interdependent: without progress in one, there can be no progress made in the other. [1]

While we must avoid the false assumption that discipleship is more caught than taught, a church with a robust teaching and preaching ministry should likewise have mature believers who model what genuine discipleship looks like in action as well.  Andrew Davis writes:

This one passage of Scripture has been the central motivation for more missionary sermons, books, strategies, and fruit than any other passage in the Bible. However, in an effort to An Infinite Journey Mapped Out “get people saved” (by which they mean justified, these converts having merely “prayed the sinner’s prayer”), they have neglected the fullness of Christ’s command. As I will argue in this book, the goal is for the Church to make mature disciples (learners) of Christ: disciples who are taught the fullness of his word and obedience to all of his commands. [2]

Could it be that the Great Commission is the neglected commission?  Like two wings on an airplane, both elements of the Great Commission matter—reaching and teaching.  The church that emphasizes reaching but neglects teaching has neglected the Great Commission altogether.

  1. Andrew Davis, An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness, (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2014), 24.
  2. Ibid., 33-34.
The Whole Duty of Man

The Whole Duty of Man

Yesterday, in our evening service, I was privileged to preach the final sermon in our Ecclesiastes study from Ecclesiastes 12:8-14.  The study was a challenge to preach, and that is the consensus of all of our elders.  Three of our elders engaged in a rotation through our study on Sunday evenings which was enriching and profitable.  As we looked into the book of Ecclesiastes once again as a church family, it was as if we could hear the wise old man named Solomon calling out to avoid the broken roads of sin as he pointed us to the whole duty of man.

Is Everything Vanity of Vanities?

All throughout the study of Ecclesiastes, it seemed at times as if Solomon was merely pessimistic.  He looked into the world in his day and described it as vanity.  But, is that what Solomon was doing?  Was he really just being negative?  Was Solomon merely seeking to be a big killjoy?

It seems that the thrust of Solomon’s voice and the tone of the Preacher was focused on avoiding a certain kind of life that is nothing but vanity.  In other words, it is possible to waste your life.  Before John Piper preached his sermon about boasting only in the cross and wrote his now famous book titled, Don’t Waste Your Life, there was Solomon thundering in his day about the vain life that must be avoided.

A Challenge to Avoid Wasting Your Mind

If James Montgomery Boice described the evangelical church in his day as “mindless times,” how would he describe our present church culture?  Solomon pointed out in Ecclesiastes 12:9-11 the value of Scripture that has been given to us by the Shepherd Himself.  These words are valuable and have been put before us for correction and stability.  Solomon uses the illustration of a goad and firmly fixed nails as a means of describing the profitability of Scripture.

Solomon also provided a warning regarding aimless learning.  This world is filled with libraries.  One such library is the Bodleian Library in Oxford England.  This historic library was the first library and remains the most famous and perhaps the most useful library in Oxford.  The Bodleian Library’s claim to fame rests in the fact that every printed book – every published book – gets catalogued into the Bodleian’s system. To date, they have over 12 million printed items.  In the Bodleian, there is a copy of the 1455 Gutenberg Bible and four original Magna Carta manuscripts.  Due to limited space on new volumes, the library has a storage facility 30 miles away from the Oxford campus where 8.4 million volumes are stored on 153 miles of shelving units.  The historic and antiquarian section of the library has been used in the Harry Potter films because of the ancient look and feel.

There is no end to the making of books, the building of libraries, and the organization of information technology (blogs, websites, and online digitized libraries).  However, the world is not gaining ground with all of this knowledge and learning.  The world, in many ways, continues to grow in futility as the unbelieving world is overtaken by the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life.  Solomon hangs a massive warning sign here.  Be careful of all of the other books.  It’s as if he is pressing upon his readers – upon us – the necessity to major on God’s Word.

A Warning to Avoid Dying with Regrets

Solomon took twelve chapters to point out the dangers of the vain life, and he ends with a sobering reminder and a solemn warning in verses 13-14.  The sobering reminder is the entire focus of the book itself—fear God and keep His commandments.  There must be a desire to fear God and obey Him.  If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, the best way to accomplish this is by fearing Him and obeying Him.  This, according to Solomon, is the whole duty of man.

Finally, Solomon brings it all to an end with a solemn warning.  This warning should be considered by the child of God and the unbeliever.  To all of God’s children, there will be a time of judgment where we all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of our lives.  According to Solomon, on that day God will bring out every secret thing, whether good or evil.  This should cause us to fear God and such fear should lead us to faithful obedience.

For the unbeliever, this scene of judgment will be far different.  Perhaps we can get a glimpse of it from Revelation 20:11-15.  Every deed brought out before the throne of God and as the holy Judge – Christ Himself – judges sinners, there will be no excuses valid, no holes deep enough to hide from Him, no hills high enough to evade Him, and His judgment will be final.

Don’t die with regrets.  Don’t end your life with the knowledge that it was all vanity of vanities.  There is ultimate fulfillment and purpose of living and dying found in Jesus Christ—the Savior of sinners.  Repent and cast yourself upon the mercy of God.