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 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?

Old Age Is Coming, but It’s Not All Vanity

Old Age Is Coming, but It’s Not All Vanity

Last night, we gathered for worship and one of our pastors – David Crowe – preached from Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 as we’re nearing the end of our Sunday evening study.  He admitted at the beginning that as most of America was preparing for a festive evening centered on the Super Bowl, the text we covered last night didn’t lend itself to much celebration.

As we read and examine the text, we see images of diminished strength, failing body, and the fear of growing old.  These images are not exactly encouraging to say the least.  However, Pastor David did a good job of demonstrating two important truths:

  1.  Don’t neglect your youthfulness today, because it passes quickly.
  2. Don’t neglect your value as an older person, because you can still be used by the Lord even in a state of diminished strength.

For those of us who are still considered young(er) in life, the prospect of teeth falling out, eyes growing dim, the loss of strength, and all of this leading to shaking in fear of the end is not something to celebrate.  In fact, if we consider the reality of last night, very few people were gathered together under the teaching of such a passage.  Most of our nation was gathered in party atmospheres, eating and drinking, and celebrating the strength of their selected team or players in the big game.

The point is clear, even the most powerful runners, the most skilled passers, and the most intelligent coaches last night will go through this process of aging at some point.  We were reminded of this reality as President George H. W. Bush (41) was pushed out to the 50 yard line in a wheel chair to flip the coin for the team captains at the beginning of the game.

As we consider the inevitable, we must not approach those days in fear.  We have hope.  Even in the state of diminished health when the dark days come—we have this blessed assurance in Christ who has gone before us and defeated death.  One day, even death itself will pass away (Rev. 21:1-4).  Until we pass over the precipice of this life into eternity, we will press on with our hope in Jesus Christ.  Even the dark days of life are not vanity – there is hope in Jesus.

Know History and Emphasize Prayer

Know History and Emphasize Prayer

Yesterday morning, Conrad Mbewe preached to our local church after a long week at the G3 Conference.  His text was Psalm 126, and as he preached, he asked two important questions.  The questions emerged from the text, and in form of application, he asked them to our local church for the purpose of evaluation and examination.

Do You See Value in Studying Church History?

As the Psalmist writes in verse 2-3, “The LORD has done great things for them. The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.”  Israel needed to recall the “great things” that the LORD had done for them.  Often, we forget how great our God is and how immeasurable the great things are that He has done for us.  One way of doing this is by having a good understanding of church history.

As we consider the importance of the Reformation, it’s important for us to consider where we are in church history and the shoulders that we stand upon.  This helps us to see how good God has been to us and it should lead to gladness of heart.  The point is clear, if Israel studied redemptive history and was reminded of the works of God—we should do the same.

Is The Prayer Meeting — Just a Prayer Meeting?

As Pastor Conrad continued to preach, he placed the focus on prayer.  In application to the local church, he asked a very important question.  He asked, “Is it just a prayer meeting?”  In other words, is the weekly prayer meeting an emphasis or something that we neglect and overlook?

As Israel was encouraged to “go out there” weeping, they would soon return with joy—bringing their sheaves with them.  At this juncture, Pastor Conrad placed the emphasis on the weekly prayer meeting and asked some helpful questions worthy of consideration.  Do we weep for souls?  Is our prayer meeting focused on physical illnesses rather than spiritual needs?  While physical problems are real, they should not outweigh the spiritual needs of the congregation and our community.

As he came to an end, he asked if we are “bruising our knees” in prayer.  Are we?  Are you?  Why is prayer so neglected in our churches today?  If we want true reformation and if we want to see our church reach our community, we don’t need more gimmicks to reach lost people and convince them to “join up” at the local church.  We need serious minded, humble Christians to be on their knees pleading with God, weeping for souls, and trusting in God for the results.

Is your weekly prayer meeting just a prayer meeting?

Do you place any value in understanding church history?

Peace and Unity in Christ

Peace and Unity in Christ

Yesterday, I preached from Ephesians 2:11-22.  There is much to learn and apply to our own divided world in our present church context.  Our world is filled with walls of division.  From divorce courts to racial divisions, we’re constantly bombarded with divisive attitudes and ideas.  In recent days, Donald Trump has stirred up the political pot with his idea of a southern border wall along the Mexican border.  In ancient days, walls and fences were a normal thing.  You can still see old ruins of walls that separated royalty from the common people.  Palaces and castles often had large walls that kept one class of people separated from others.  You can still see that type of thing in our day in places like England where the royal family is kept secure behind large fences.

As Paul wrote Ephesians, his desire was to make it known to the Gentiles that they were not to be kept outside the dividing wall any longer.  They were to be considered one with their Jewish brothers and sisters through the blood of Christ.  This divisive mentality was thick among the Jews who considered the Gentiles to be savages and outcasts.  Paul began in verses 11-12 by reminding the Gentiles of their past.  One way to be filled with joy as a Christian is to be reminded of where you were when God came seeking you.

Paul explained that they were:

  • Called the Uncircumcision
  • Separated from Christ
  • Alienated from the Commonwealth of Israel
  • Separated from the Covenants of Promise
  • Without hope
  • Without God

What a gloomy picture.  They could not understand God’s love and mercy to the Israelites.  They were cut off from God and could not understand the language of grace.  As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explained, unbelievers can’t understand the things of God:

They can read their Bible and it does not move them. They can look at these ‘exceeding great and precious promises’ and say: To whom does this apply, what is all this about? They are strangers; they are like people from another country; they do not understand the language. [1]

Then, as Paul continued, he turned to encourage them regarding their position in Christ.  Before Christ saved them, they were lost and without hope.  Now, as Paul explains, they have hope and in this hope comes access to God through the blood of Christ.  It was through the blood of Christ that they who were far off were brought near to God.

In the Jewish temple, the centerpiece of worship life for Jews, there were specific courtyards designated as boundaries for certain people.  At the top was the Court of the Priests.  Only male Jews of the tribe of Levi were permitted to enter this courtyard.  As one traveled away, he would come to the Court of Israel where only male Jews were permitted to enter.  Further back was the Court of the Women where any Jew was permitted, including women, but the women could not go beyond this point.

At this point, moving down one would travel down a section of five stairs to a five foot high stone boundary.  This boundary circled the entire temple.  On it was written these words, “No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” [2]  Still moving down another set of stairs, fourteen to be precise, one would finally reach the Court of the Gentiles.  This was the boundary for all Gentiles – set on a much lower place – and cut off from the rest of the Jewish temple and worship area.

Paul explains that this was the way the Gentiles were before Christ saved them, but now they have access to God and unity with the Jews.  Although they were once strangers and aliens to the covenants of promise, now they are included and have access to God.  This was hard for the Jews to grasp, especially since they viewed Gentiles as being created to fuel the flames of hell.  Yet, Paul was making it clear that the walls of division were abolished by Christ.

We can all expect the world to be harsh and abrasive to Christians.  The world hates Christ and His church.  Therefore, the followers of Christ should come into the church community with love and peace toward one another and seek to be an encouragement and support for one another along the journey of faith.  Any attitude and motive of division in the church is unbiblical and labors against the unity that Christ established through His work on the cross.

  1. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation: Studies in Ephesians, Chapter 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), 170.
  2. See J. H. Iliffe, “The ΘΑΝΑΤΟΣ Inscription from Herod’s Temple: Fragments of a Second Copy,” Quarterly of Department of Antiquities in Palestine VI (1938), pp. 1 ff.