How do you know who’s really a Christian? Well, to paraphrase an old saying, “Christian is as Christian does.”
Listen to this ringing call to live like a real Christian.
Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:17-24, nrsv
Here is the great section in which Paul deals with the Christian life, the moral and ethical imperatives of belonging to Jesus Christ and the Christian community.
Here is the contrast between the new way of living to which believers are called in Christ and their former manner of life, between God’s values and standards for them over against those of the surrounding culture.
They are God’s people, born anew by his Spirit, with a new destiny, but they are still living in this present world. God has begun a good work in them, but they still wrestle with remnants of the old nature, are still vulnerable to temptation. They are in the midst of a struggle between the new and the old. The apostle gives this resounding call to them to live a life worthy of their calling in Christ, to remain faithful to him in an environment often hostile to their faith.
Nothing could be more relevant for us today as we enter a new millennium. The same pressures on these Ephesian Christians are still felt by us today, in new forms, with new power. We need to hear God’s call to us in this passage at this very hour.
I hear from the apostle four urgent imperatives: Learn Christ, Copy God, Live as Light, and Be Filled with the Spirit. Each stands in contrast to another way.
We learn Christ instead of living as the unbelievers do.
We copy God instead of the culture around us.
We live as light instead of loving the darkness.
And we are filled with the Spirit instead of being drunk with wine.
Launch out with me now as we look squarely at these points together.
Here is a bold negative – you must not live as the unbelievers do- in a vain, futile, deluded way. They are in darkness, alienated by ignorance . . . hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and decency. They have abandoned themselves to sexual immorality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
Sound familiar? Do you see that around you, in your culture? Should Christians live this way? Paul says absolutely not! Why? You have not so learned Christ.
You have heard the good news of Jesus – his life and ministry, his death and rising, his character and conduct. You have become his disciples and learners. Is there anything in what you have learned about him that goes along with that negative lifestyle? Emphatically, NO.
You know that his style was a life of obedience to God, of prayer and self-denial, of purity and peace. If you are a follower of Jesus, you know that you belong to him. You have died with him to your old way of life. You’ve been raised again to a new one.
So the gospel teaches you, Christ teaches you, to put that old life away. Strip it off like an old, filthy garment. Renounce that old self; deny it. It is corrupt and deceived by selfish desires. So to all of that, you say a resounding NO. Instead, you are to be renewed. You are to clothe yourself with the new self, with bright, clean, shining raiment, the kind you put on after a bath or a shower. This is the person born anew, created after God’s image – not in unrighteousness but in uprightness, not in impurity but in holiness. You are saying a great “Yes” to Christ and his new way.
All right, how will that decision work itself out? Paul says, “putting away falsehood . . . Let everyone speak truth to his neighbor.” The fabric of society depends on truthfulness. And because you’re members of one another and because you are a new person in Christ, speak truth and do not lie to each other.
Be angry and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath. For Paul, being angry is something real in the life of every one of us, but we can be angry and not give way to sin. We can experience the emotion of anger but not let it sour into malice, hate and ill-will toward others. We’re not to let the sun go down on our wrath. We’re not to nurse grudges. We’re to work things out with people while it’s still today. And in a family situation, isn’t that important to do? So you are angry and don’t sin. You don’t give place to the devil.
Thieves must give up their thievery and instead work so that they can give to others. This is a kind of total turn around, giving instead of taking, sharing instead of stealing. You fight the old style by doing the very opposite!
Don’t let evil talk come out of your mouth but only what’s useful, as there is need. Again, counter with the opposite. Don’t tear down but build up. Don’t hurt but heal. Oh, the power of the tongue!
And then the comprehensive charge, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, friends, is God. The Holy Spirit is personal. The Holy Spirit can be grieved the way you can break the heart of loving parents by living shamefully and bringing disgrace upon them. The Spirit is holy, grieved when you embrace the unholy. By him you are sealed. The Spirit abides in your heart. So live, dear friends, as you have learned Christ!
And then next, copy God. What we are to put away is continued: all kinds of hostile, antisocial actions and attitudes. You learn many of those from your culture, your nationality, your tribe, your family group. You pattern yourself after old, hostile attitudes that the people in your ethnic group or your social set have toward other people. And those go on and on – vengeance, hostility, renewed retaliation and hate. Those things have to be put away, and that’s hard to do. Instead, says the Apostle, let the way God has dealt with you be your pattern. Be kind to one another instead of being cruel, tenderhearted instead of hardhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Friends, there is absolutely no other way to overcome the horrendous hostilities that rend our world today. Someone has to break the cycle. It takes courage, sometimes suffering, sometimes even death when you confront the forces of hate, bitterness, and prejudice, when you try to break age old patterns of vengeance. So with the Lord himself: returning good for evil, praying for his murderers. You’ve seen what that is, how that works. So take your cue from what God has done, how he has treated you. “Be imitators of God,” says Paul, “as beloved children.”
A child loved by a parent will want to be like that mom or dad. And you, as a child of your heavenly father through Christ, will want to be like him, to pattern your life and action after his. A child not loved by a parent will still want to be like that parent, and that result is a sad one. Like father, like son.
God loves you like no human father or mother ever could. He kindles in your heart the longing to live in his way. He’s patient with you, forgiving, believing in you, wanting the best for you. Now, treat others like that!
I was blessed with parents who did that for me, and I still want to please them. I still don’t want to do anything that would bring shame on them, even though both of them have been dead over 20 years.
Live in love, as Christ also loved us. Copy God.
LIVE AS LIGHT
Then live as light. Here are contrasts like night and day. What ought not even to be mentioned as becomes saints: pre-marital sex, impurity, greed, and vulgar, obscene talk. Paul says, “let’s have thanksgiving instead.” The blunt truth is that no one who continues in this style of life will ever inherit the kingdom of God. The wrath of God hangs over those who continue in a life of disobedience. And, Christian, if you have trusted Christ, you have entered a new world. It is the opposite of your former direction and destiny. So don’t be associated with that lifestyle.
Once you were darkness. Now you are light in the Lord. So live as children of light. The fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness but rather expose them. And when you are light in the Lord, that’s just what happens whenever you are around. The darkness around you becomes light. The light wins! As with Jesus. Through your witness, your life, your light, God may say to some, “Awake, you sleeper. Rise from the dead and Christ will give you light!”
BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT
And then finally, be filled with the Spirit. Paul says, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise but as wise. Make the most of the time because the days are evil. Don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Don’t be drunk with wine, but rather be filled with the Spirit” (vv. 15-18). Let your exhilaration, let your excitement, let your high, come not from a chemical but from the Spirit of God. Then let joy issue in all kinds of songs, worship and giving of thanks. “Be continually being filled with the Spirit,” is what Paul says literally. Instead of going back again and again to some stimulant, go back again and again to God to receive afresh the filling and empowering of his Spirit.
We’ve seen the imperatives, the oughts, that God puts before us: “Learn Christ,” “Copy God,” “Live as light,” and “Be filled with the Spirit.” As we face that standard of God’s Word, we are convicted, all of us, for the ways in which we haven’t learned Christ and exhibited his values in our lives. We don’t copy God in the pattern of our relationships with others. We sometimes have more about us of darkness than light. We haven’t always sought and lived in the filling of God’s Spirit. But thank God, we have more than imperatives, more than advice. We have offered to us also the life, the power, by which we can live in a new way. So, friends, in the life of the Holy Spirit, in his filling of your heart, moment by moment, you can find power, hope, healing, and joy.