Monday, September 13, 2010

The Transformation Is Inevitable

Ephesians 5:1-8

1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.
2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints;
4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.
5 For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light...

Paul exhorts his Ephesian readers to imitate God. The exhortation may strike one as preposterous; after all how can we, sinners by nature, finite in every aspect of our being, imitate the infinitely Holy One? But Paul is not alone in making such a demand. Peter, in a similar vein, charges his readers, "as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy," 1 Peter 1:15, 16. In both Paul and Peter, the exhortation is accompanied by the image of children. Paul elicits the picture of a dear child imitating his Father; Peter speaks of 'obedient children.' Children of God love their Father and as such want to be like Him. They want to please Him. For one who is a child, loved by his Father, and devoted to his Father, nothing is more satisfying than to be like the Father.

Both Paul and Peter are specific as to what it means to be an imitator of God, to be holy just as He is holy. For Peter, it is not to conform to one's former lusts. Peter is simply saying, "don't behave the way you used to, before you became children of God."

Paul lays it out in starkly contrasting and explicit examples: Fornication, filthiness, covetousness, foolish talking, coarse jesting on the one hand, and the fruit of the Spirit on the other. This contrast was introduced by Paul in the fourth chapter. There, after having explained in Chapter 2 how the Ephesian believer - once dead in tresspasses and sins in which he walked according to the course of this world, in whose nature there was no difference from that of the son of disobedience - a dead sinner was made alive in Christ. Something radical happened, a transition from death to life, and Paul unabashedly expected there to be a difference in such a one who was made alive. The liar is now to speak the truth. The thief is no longer to steal but labor that he might have something to give to him who has need. Anger is to be short-lived and no longer an occasion for sin or an opportunity for the devil to work his evil purposes. The mouth is guarded such that nothing corrupt proceeds from it, but rather that which is good and helpful to the listener. All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, and malice is to be cast off. Instead, the way of the one who has been made alive is marked by kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness.

God does a work in the believer that changes him, from sinner to saint, death to life. This is radical, so radical that one in whom God has done the work cannot help but behave in a particular manner - in godliness and holiness. This does not mean sinless perfection or anything that comes close to it. Rather than a life of ease, there is a profound struggle that permeates everything. Paul bears witness to the war that goes on in the heart and life of the believer (Gal 5:17; Eph 6:10-18; I Cor 9:24-27, II Cor 3:16-18). But there is an inevitable difference between what came before and what follows.

This struggle to be holy is itself a part of the difference. For the unbeliever, still dead in his sins, whose understanding is darkened, alienated from the life of God because of ignorance and blindness, who is so far gone that he is past feeling and gives himself over to lewdness to work all uncleanness with greediness (Eph 4:18, 19) - such a one knows of no struggle to be holy.

Holiness, its pursuit, the struggle for it, is not optional, but mandatory. In some sense, it comes easy because it is inevitable - the one who has been made alive cannot help himself, for his deepest desire is to be holy. He fights to be holy; he grieves over his sin hourly; his life is characterized by continual repentance. His conscience is struck, his heart is pierced over his sin. The bane of his iniquities drives him continually to God for forgiveness and restoration, that he might have that grace to live on and fight another hour. He rejoices in anticipation of that day when in glory, he sins no more.

The one who claims to be a Christian but is not walking as one, has deluded himself. To him Paul says, "Let no one deceive you, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience."

Are you struggling to be holy? If so, that is a good sign. Perservere. Take heart. There is a day coming in which the struggle will be over. For now, fight.

Is there no struggle. Take heed, and examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith. We are despicable sinners, helpless to change, and yet in Christ, there is everything we need. We bring nothing to him. We cannot offer a submissive heart for we have no such thing. We need a broken, contrite heart, and only Christ can do that. In Him there is not only forgiveness, but sanctification. Christ alone changes us because he alone makes us alive.

Do you sense the wickedness of your heart and the inability to change? Come to Christ, who became for us wisdom from God - righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. There is no transformation except through Christ. He saves us from our sins and sinfulness. We offer him nothing - not our hearts, our wills, or our minds for they are altogether corrupt. We can only receive from him - his righteousness (imputed to us), his sanctification (transforming us into a godly, holy people), his redemption (the forgiveness of our sins and deliverance from his deserving wrath). Receive the grace of God in Christ and be transformed from sinner to saint. Turn to him for cleansing from your sin, a renewed heart, and a stedfast, persevering spirit in his holy ways. Take his yoke for it is easy, his burden is light, and you will discover his commandments are no longer grievous but joyous, more precious than silver, more to be sought after than gold.


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