Vision

In Paul's second letter to Timothy he writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) My prayer for this ministry is that by rightly dividing the Scriptures, I might be able to facilitate all those aspects of the Scriptures to the benefit of all those who visit this website.

Mission

The mission of this ministry is to be consistent with Jesus' original command to his disciples: "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" Matthew 28:18-20

Personal Disclosure

I am a fellow traveler who doesn't have all the answers and still makes many mistakes. However, I am desperately in love with Jesus Christ, the one and only King of kings, and I am so amazed that he knows exactly who I am and yet still died on the cross for me, then rose from the dead and called me to be His follower!

God's Message To You

"Dear Child,

I wanted you to know just how much I loved you so I sent my only Son, Jesus, to tell you and show you. If you make the decision to believe in Him, then you and I will be able to spend eternity together! I Love You!" (John 3:16 paraphrase)

Method

“Here there is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment.

Here there is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without freedom to think.

Here is vibrant evangelicalism—freedom to think within the bounds laid down by Scripture.”

Dr. Vernon Grounds

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Children Of Light: Created To Be Like God (Part One)


(Audio version; Music--"Sovereign Over Us" by: Aaron Keyes--WorshipMob Intimate Sessions--Real. Live. Worship. and "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" by: Hillsong United--WorshipMob RE-MASTERED)











Introduction

            I’m sure you’ve all started something new in your life. A new job; a new school; a new relationship, etc. It can be hard knowing exactly what we should be doing when we start something new. However, with good teaching and diligent commitment we can thrive and even become an example for others to follow. While my oldest daughter, Meagan, was studying nursing, she worked as a Patient Care Service Aide (PCSA) at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. I remember when she started the job, she was terrified that she didn’t know what she was doing. Gradually, however, the nurses taught and trained her and by the time she graduated from college, the nurses told her that she set the bar to a level they wanted all PCSA’s to reach and they begged her to stay on as a nurse. However, when she graduated college, she was hired by the same hospital as a licensed Cardio-Thoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU) nurse and the cycle of being overwhelmed and not knowing what to do started all over again. She is currently about half way through her residency and is just now beginning to feel like what she learned in school and what she is experiencing in the real world are finally intersecting. One of the big challenges with her current position is that there is very little room for error. The way she did things before; the nursing protocols and procedures are no longer appropriate for her new nursing duties. When your patient is just a few days old and has already endured open-heart surgery, there are no trivial protocols or minor procedures—every protocol and procedure, no matter how trivial or minor, is a matter of life and death. Her duties are very serious, doctors depend on her, other nurses on her nursing team depend on her, family and friends of the patient depend on her and the patient certainly depends on her. Nevertheless, with adequate time and field training, I’m confident she will once again thrive and maybe even be an example that new nurses will be able to follow.

            This is similar to the way our lives can be as believers. We acted in a certain way before becoming believers but once we accepted Christ, everything should have changed. This is usually where the problems come in for many believers. They accept Christ yet continue living their lives as they did before accepting Christ. It can prove to be a difficult transition. Before becoming Christians, we lived in the dark never knowing that we were in the dark. However, once we accepted Jesus, the Light of the world, into our lives, we became Children Of Light. And that light began to shine into the dark places of our lives and exposed the things in our lives that needed to change. Like a CTICU nurse, there’s little room for error. People are depending on us and many of them don’t even know it. As Children Of Light, our lives are supposed to light a path so that others can see the way to Jesus or to make it easier to follow us until they get close enough to Jesus so they can take the last few steps on their own to enter into relationship with Him. Nevertheless, we can no longer live in the darkness we lived in before we became believers. Christians are not slaves to sin and prisoners of darkness. Followers of Christ are Children Of Light.

Subject Text

Ephesians 4:17-28

            17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. 20You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold. 28He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Context

            Unlike many of Paul’s letters to the various churches he founded, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians wasn’t for the purpose of correcting any specific false teaching or problem in the young church. In fact, in some of the early Greek transcripts, the words “at Ephesus” are not found in the letter. Consequently, it is believed that this letter was intended to be circulated to all the churches. This makes sense since the teaching in the letter is applicable to all Christians everywhere in all ages. It would seem that Paul had a special affinity for the Ephesians after having spent more than three years with them. This letter was written by Paul as he sat in a Roman prison around 60 A.D. Although he would be released from prison in 62 A.D. He’d be back in a Roman prison and martyred around 66 A.D. I think Paul always knew how his ministry would end but it never changed his mission. Paul did everything he could to encourage and edify the churches he founded to be faithful followers of Jesus to the very end and to live lives worthy of the salvation they received at such tremendous cost.

Text Analysis

            17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

            Normally the reference to “Gentile” in vv. 17-19 is intended to be an ethnic distinction but here Paul is using “Gentile” as a spiritual distinction. The context of the verses that follow make it clear that the malady of unbelief is not reserved for Gentiles only. Although the text does not specifically say, there had to have been some ethnic Gentiles among the believers in Ephesus. It was in a predominantly Gentile province of the Roman Empire so it is unreasonable to insist that Paul was referring exclusively to ethnic Gentiles. Futility of thought is not the exclusive domain of Gentiles considering how often Paul had to battle the false teachings of Judaizers who taught that believers must add the keeping of the Law to their faith in order to be saved. This too was a kind of futility in thought. Instead, the futility that Paul references is humanity’s tendency to “think” they know better than God. It is humanity’s tendency to “think” that God is a silly superstition. It is humanity’s tendency to “think” they don’t need God to get through life. Intellectual pride, rationalization, justification, and excuses all take the place of humble surrender to a life of faith. The people Paul is referring to rely on their own worldly wisdom and worldly understanding and see the Gospel to be a compilation of ancient fairytales reserved for the ignorant and feeble-minded.

            Paul insists that the life of the believer should present a stark contrast to the life of an unbeliever. Their profession of faith should provide a clear demarcation that separates life before belief versus life after belief. It sounds easier than it is in reality but that doesn’t mean our lives shouldn’t be on an intentional trajectory toward fundamental transformation away from who we were as unbelievers and toward who we are called to be as believers. “The [Greek text] associates the walk which they are charged to continue no longer with that of the Gentiles generally, and with their own former walk in their non-Christian days. ‘In the vanity [or futility] of their mind [or thinking]’ is not merely the intellectual faculty or understanding, but also the faculty for recognizing moral good and spiritual truth…Vanity in the sense of purposelessness, uselessness. There is nothing in the clause to restrict it to the case of idol-worshippers or to that of the heathen philosophers. It is a description of the walk of the heathen [unbelieving] world generally—a walk moving within the limits of intellectual and moral resultlessness, given over to things devoid of worth or reality…[The Greek word for ‘understanding’] is not to be taken as if this clause referred only to the intellectual condition. [The word] covers the ideas not only of understanding, but also of feeling and desiring. It is the faculty or seat of thinking and feeling. [Unbelievers,] being in a state of moral darkness, also become alienated from the true life…[They] have estranged themselves from God…‘because of the ignorance that is in them’ [is an] explicit statement of the cause of their estrangement…It denotes an ignorance of Divine things, a want of knowledge that is inexcusable and involves moral blindness.”[1]

At some point, unbelievers become so hardened and entrenched in their sinful lives that their sins spawn even greater and more heinous sins. “Having lost all sensitivity” refers to the searing of the conscience to the extent that morality becomes merely relative—good becomes evil; right becomes wrong; truth becomes a lie. Sin is like an addiction to narcotics. The longer a narcotic is used the more it is constantly needed to maintain the same level of euphoria. Sin works the same way. A little sin leads to more sin until a person’s life is driven and defined by sin.

20You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

            Paul reminds the Ephesians in vv. 20-24 that they are supposed to be different as believers. The Ephesians didn’t become believers by indulging in their sinful desires that can deceive us into believing we are masters of our lives, but by turning away from their sins and instead turning to the truth that can only be found in Jesus because Jesus is the real Truth of life. Paul taught them that once they became believers, there was no going back to the old ways of living. Salvation begins the process of sanctifying the sinner. It does not sanctify sin. Sin is still sin even if it committed by a believer. The difference is that it is, or should be, out of character for believers to continue to sin. When we accepted Christ, we were renewed. We have become a new creation. That is the principle behind the idea of being “born-again” Christians. When we are born-again, we aren’t born to be the same old person, we are new creations in every way—in our actions and in our attitudes. We have been created anew to take on the characteristics of the One who is supremely righteous and holy. Believers are therefore called to be righteous and holy as well. The old way of living, thinking and believing led to a life of ever-growing and insatiable desire for sin. The new way rejects this old way of living and embraces a new way of life.

            It’s easy to say and talk about in theory but I know from personal experience that it is excruciatingly difficult to practice in reality. Being renewed is not some kind of magic that transforms us in an instance. Sin, for me and for some of you as well, has been deeply ingrained from years of disobedience. However, unlike unbelievers, I know sin is present in my life and I know it doesn’t belong there. There was a time when I didn’t care and even tried to excuse it but no longer. I have committed my life to living into the new creation that I am. It may take me the rest of my life but my life and every true believers life must reflect the intentionality to be holy and righteous just like the One we claim to believe in and follow. “Ephesians places[s] great emphasis on living in accordance with the ‘new nature,’ which reflects God’s likeness in righteousness and holiness. Indeed, imitation of God and Christ become ethical touchstones, another way that Christians make God’s character known. (The church collectively is the vehicle for making God’s wisdom known.) Ephesians offers guidelines about behaviors that reflect the ‘old nature’ that is ‘corrupted by deceitful lusts’ and therefore not a reliable guide to be followed, and about the behaviors that proceed from the ‘new nature.’ Because of their general nature, they cannot be mistaken for a new law but rather offer a resource that will help the self-examining disciple perceive which nature he or she is nurturing/cultivating. The guidelines help us discern what behaviors proceed from our new nature:

·      Not doing what fosters enmity and rifts in relationships but what fosters unity, harmony, solidarity.
·      Not predatorial grasping but beneficence.
·      Not harboring grudges but seeking reconciliation.
·      Not lying, treating others as outsiders and nonfamily but speaking the truth.
·      Not indulging in distractions but focusing on the work of building up the church, fulfilling the obligation of thanksgiving and searching out God’s direction.

[Paul’s words] help keep before our eyes, and the eyes of those we serve, the truth that the gospel is transformative and that Christianity that does not change a person’s heart, mind and life is empty. They call for fortitude as we face the truth about the passions and values that drive us when Christ’s model and God’s desire are not in view, but they also encourage us with words about the light God shines on us so that at each step we may walk in his ways and delight in his will.”[2]

25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

            I’ve asked this before but I’ll do so again here: What would the world look like if all Christians were honest all the time and in every way? Think about it. I know it is a popular belief and immortalized in song that “love is all we need,” and it is absolutely true that love has power that hate and anger can never possess. However, can true love exist where there is no truth? Notice that Jesus did not say the He was the Way, the Love, and the Life. He said He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I contend, where there is deceit, there is no real or lasting love. That’s what Paul is angling at in v. 25. Lying, cheating, and stealing were characteristics of their old self. Their new self was to be characterized by honesty and trustworthiness. We often read Paul’s words and take them for granted as though we have fully incorporated them into our lives as believers. I’d like you to take a moment and honestly examine your life. Are you truthful in all things in your life? I don’t have to dig very deeply into my life to realize that I am not always truthful in my words or in my actions. Does that mean I’m not really a new creation? No, it means that we are new in some ways and being renewed in others. Believers understand that dishonesty dishonors God and wounds those around us. Unbelievers understand that dishonesty is a tool to be used to get ahead in life and get what they want. Unbelievers have no concern for God’s honor and seemingly little regard for the wounds they inflict on others as long as they get what they want. “Because we are all members of Christ’s body, our words and actions must not be destructive to the body. Lying to each other disrupts unity by creating conflicts and destroying trust. It tears down relationships and leads to open warfare in a church. Truthfulness, however, opens the door to understanding. To maintain unity, the believers must be completely truthful with one another.”[3] To put it more graphically, “A lie is a stab into the very vitals of the body of Christ”[4]

26“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold.

            I’ll be honest with you, Paul’s teaching in vv. 26-27, derived in part directly from Psalm 4:4, speaks directly to me. Perhaps not so much now as it once did but there was a time in my life when I was an angry man—all the time. And I carried my anger with me day and night like a badge of honor. Unfortunately, the anger in my life gave birth to much sin and Satan used it to wedge his way into my life to wound others and to distort or hide the reflection of God’s character in my life. Paul isn’t saying that we shouldn’t be angry. There are times when righteous anger is called for—when those who can’t defend themselves are attacked, when the helpless are oppressed, when the ignorant or na├»ve are deceived by religious charlatans, when Christians are persecuted for their faith. It is not unreasonable to be angry at the things that anger God. However, we are not God so we must be careful that our actions while defending the helpless or our actions in the face of, oppression, deception, and persecution don’t assume God’s responsibility for judgment and punishment. Even anger that is justified can devolve into sinful behavior and can be used by Satan to destroy lives.

            There are times when we are angry because we ourselves have been offended in some way and we, ok I, can hold a grudge with an iron fist. This is the type of anger that is dangerous and what Paul is also warning against. Believers are a people who have been renewed because we are reconciled to God through Jesus. We are a people characterized by reconciliation. We still live in a world of sin, so it is inevitable that we will be hurt by Christians and non-Christians alike. The old self would seek revenge and look to pay back hurt with hurt while the new self seeks reconciliation and offers forgiveness in exchange for hurt. The longer we hold on to anger withhold forgiveness, the stronger Satan’s influence becomes in our lives.

            Did Paul really mean that we must resolve the reason behind our anger before the sun goes down? Maybe. But I suspect Paul was being less literal with respect to adherence and instead expected them to resolve the issues surrounding their anger quickly, not allowing anger to linger for long in their hearts and minds. “‘Hostile Christian’ is an oxymoron. We must replace hostility with helpfulness. The primary place hostility and cynicism appear is in our families, the assumption being that those closest to us are responsible for the problem, have failed to solve it, or are easy targets for revenge…Where families are marked by bitterness, anger, shouting, or worse, violence, no one may speak of Christian faith. Usually our anger is in response to small things that do not really matter. And since anger is a choice to express our displeasure where no fear is present, anger is most often directed at the wrong people. The victims of anger are usually not its cause; they are merely people who are present and pose no threat—such as women, children, or people without power, the very people to who we should guarantee safety.”[5]

28He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

            One of the things that distinguishes humanity as created in the image of God is that we are co-creators with God. We are, by design, consumers and producers. We are not designed to be only producers as in the case of slaves or only consumers as in the case of social leeches. We are designed to produce goods and services for the benefit of one another. It works beautifully if everyone contributes to the extent they are able to do so according to their God given gifts and abilities. It is particularly harmful if either extreme is exploited.

It is rather obvious that we shouldn’t steal. I’m unaware of any civilized society, where theft is or was considered or condoned as an acceptable behavior. The command, “you shall not steal” is one of the Ten Commandments so it’s been around for quite a while. I’m pretty sure Paul wasn’t reiterating something that was somewhat universally understood and relatively obvious in v. 28. Instead, I think Paul was aiming at a different practice, the practice of some who were unproductive members of society who consciously took advantage of those who were productive members of society.

This should sound very familiar in our society here in the west where those who are productive members of society regularly support successive generations of individuals and families who live exclusively off the hard work of others. Some of these people call themselves Christians. These are some of the people Paul is speaking to. All people, but especially those who call themselves Christians, must do something useful so that they have something to give back to society. Christians cannot call themselves Christians who refuse to care for those in need—those people are hypocrites. Christians cannot call themselves Christians who refuse to be productive members of society but instead live exclusively off the fruits of someone else’s hard work—those people are thieves. The ideal is life lived in community where all contribute to one another’s physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs generously and sacrificially. “Paul regarded idleness, which was endemic in Greco-Roman society, as inappropriate for the Christian believer. So he deliberately set the example of hard work to support himself and called upon his converts to imitate him. The practical values of life in Christ were concretely exemplified in his own consciously executed lifestyle in which he supported himself by work.”[6]

Application

            I think I’ve told you that I’ve believed in God for as long as I can remember. However, I haven’t always been a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, there was a time in my life when the imprint of God’s image on my life was buried under several layers of manure. However, when I finally got around to listening to God’s voice in my life, that imprint of God’s image on my life was unearthed. It smelled awful and it was impossible to discern God’s image at first but at least it was ready for God to work His wonders. Now, on good days, you can get a glimpse of God’s character in my life. In any event, I knew intuitively that the minute I said ‘yes’ to following Jesus, my life had to be different. No matter how much I liked certain parts of my old self, I knew I had to give them up because they were inconsistent with my new self—drinking excessively, a vocabulary laced with profanity, anger, and a spirit of unforgiveness to name but a few. I knew something changed. My mind and attitude had changed and it was time for my actions to follow

            As Christians, we are new creations made to be holy and righteous in the same way that God is holy and righteous. The old us is gone and the new us has arrived—we are born again. When the text says that we are a new creation, it means that every part of us is new—our mind, our attitude, and our actions. It means our lives should become a reflection of Jesus so people who encounter us will get a very real and tangible sense of who Jesus is. What does your life say about what you believe? Does your life attract people to Jesus? Does your life point people to Jesus? Does your life shine a light on the path to Jesus? Jesus is the Light of the world. If we call ourselves followers of Jesus then our lives must also reflect that light because followers of the Light of the world are new creations and born again with the distinction of being know as Children Of Light.

            Be sure to come back next week for Part Two of Children Of Light where I’ll go into greater detail of what it means to be “imitators of God.”






[1] W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol. 3, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), pp. 338-339.
[2] David A. deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), pp. 731-732.
[3] Bruce Barton, Philip Comfort, Grant Osborne, Linda K. Taylor, and Dave Veerman, Life Application New Testament Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), p. 823.
[4] John Mackay, God’s Order: The Ephesian Letter and This Present Time, (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishers, 1953), p. 185.
[5] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians—The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), p. 263.
[6] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 927.