Ephesians 4:17-5:2 When Caroline’s dad was a young man he loved to race anything with wheels and an engine—from motorcycles to cars. Unfortunately, he had a major wreck--lost a leg-- and went through life with an artificial limb—and because of this, had a very distinctive walk. He was also a photography buff and so from the day she was born, he was taking pictures and making 8mm movies of Caroline.
And in one 8mm movie, made when she was only about two or three, there is this little brown-eyed girl walking with the same distinctive walk as her father. She’s not making fun or being cruel of course—this is simply the way her father walks-- and so imitating him, this is the way she walks.
In God’s Word today, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to tell us that we are to be imitators of God, as his beloved children—that we are not to walk as the world—but to walk as Christ and make him manifest in our words and deeds to a world that very much needs to hear and see him. The Bible says:
You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
A question that has always haunted me as a pastor and a Christian husband and father is this: Is my life as a Christian really, noticeably, discernibly different from the unbelieving world around me?
In other words is my daily life and that of my family different from the nice family who lives next door or down the street who are not Christians? Different in how I view life? Different in my priorities? Different in my values? And if it is not—why not?
The Bible says that we MUST NO LONGER walk as the Gentiles do. In other words, our lives as Christians are to be radically different from that of the world’s.
Our worldview—our way of viewing the world around us and interpreting what is valuable and good and true must be different—for the world’s view of these things is distorted. Paul says that their minds are futile—they are darkened in their understanding—and they are ignorant. And these intellectual problems stem from a common spiritual cause: they are alienated from God.
Paul puts his finger on something that we have all wondered about: how when it comes to such basic issues as the right to life, and the value and dignity of the human person, and the sanctity of marriage—how people who are just as intelligent as we are—can see things so very, very differently than we do?
It’s because the unbelieving world does not really don’t think about these things like we do because they are alienated from God. And alienated from God, they not only come from a totally different starting point and perspective—but the trajectory of their lives away from God grows more and more pronounced over time.
A life devoid of God will always give itself over to sensuality because that it all it has. And by sensuality, Paul is not just talking about sexuality, but about all manner of satisfying and catering to the flesh. Sensuality is always a downward spiral at an ever-increasing speed for no material things can ever truly satisfy mankind-- for we were not made for them—but for God.
That is why I asked the question that I did about our lives being noticeably different than the world’s-- and why I am so concerned about the answer-- for we cannot, without great spiritual peril to our life with God, adopt the thinking of the world on marriage or money—career and children—without also adopting a worldview that is totally alien to the Spirit of Christ. The Bible says:
This is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
This section brings up another question and concern that I often wonder about both as an individual Christian and as a Christian pastor: have I clearly, consistently, and without compromise taught the truth about what it means to be a Christian to my family and congregation? Or having I downplayed the importance of a true and living faith that results in a changed life?
I oftentimes get the idea that many, many Christians do not understand or ignore or want to downplay—the connection between their faith in Jesus and their day to day life of discipleship—and so I want to make sure that everyone here understands that necessary connection.
We ARE saved by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone—but that faith is never alone—it is always accompanied by a changed life-- and the fruit of the Spirit-- and good works that serve our neighbor.
In other words, the cause of our salvation is always God’s grace alone and the content of our salvation is Christ alone—but the consequence of saving faith for God’s children is a holy life like our God’s. This is the teaching of Holy Scripture and the teaching of our church. And so then…
The entirety of the Christian life consists in putting off the old self and putting on the new self—in other words, repenting in sorrow over our sins and trusting in Jesus for salvation—and living out that reality by imitating God.
The point is this: repentance and faith are infinitely more than just words—but they are as dramatic a change within a person—in their heart and minds and lives--as being raised from the dead to life—for that is exactly what they are—spiritually speaking.
This divine dynamic of dying to sin and rising in Christ is worked in us by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament and it is not just a once in a lifetime thing-- but a daily renewal in the life of a child of God and a sure sign of a true and living faith.
The new person within each of us, recreated in the image of God in righteousness and holiness, desires to please God in all that it does. Paul goes on to show us some concrete examples of what this new self looks like as we strive to imitate God. Paul says:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
The list that Paul gives are examples of what imitating God looks like in daily life but it is not meant to be exhaustive. Rather it deals with some broad categories of behavior: our daily vocations and speech and emotions.
Regarding our daily vocation, Paul says that dishonest ways of making a living must be avoided—that there is no shame in working hard for our daily bread.
Work is one of those gifts like marriage and sexuality that was given to mankind BEFORE the fall into sin—it is a good thing (marred by sin into more hardship than God intended) but a good thing: a good thing because it is the way that God has provided for caring for ourselves and our family—a good thing because it is the means that God has provided for caring for others who genuinely cannot care for themselves. Our heavenly Father is at work in this world and so his children work.
Regarding our speech Paul says that we are to speak honestly with one another. This admonition to honest speech is needed in our day. We live in time and place where honesty is in short supply. Politicians on both sides of the aisle make promises they have no intention of keeping. Husbands and wives lie to one another about what they spend and children lie to their parents about where they’ve been.
But as Christians we are called to speak the truth in love. Paul says that our speech as Christians is to supposed build up those we speak to rather than tear them down—that it is to convey grace and blessing to others just like the words of our heavenly Father.
And Paul closely ties our speech to our emotions. Bitterness, malice, wrath, and anger are emotions that often times show up in our speech. How many times have we truly forgiven one another after some disagreement but the harsh words that were spoken in the argument linger for years?
These kinds of emotions hurt one another-- but they also hurt our relationship with God. The Bible says that they grieve the Holy Spirit—because they are a denial of the God of love who lives within us AND within that other person that we are angry with.
Instead, we are to be “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Anger and malice and bitterness are what idolatry looks like as it is expressed in human emotions.
We sinfully stand at the center of the universe and are angry that everyone else doesn’t recognize it and let us have our way. And when that anger continues on without repentance and faith-- it takes hold over our whole lives in bitterness and a malicious intention to hurt others as they’ve hurt us. All of this—from beginning to end—is a denial of who we are as children of God’s love in Christ.
There is only one person in the universe who has a perfect right to his anger and that is God in his holy, righteous anger at our sins. And yet God loved us-- and his heart was tender towards us-- and he sent his Son into the world to take upon himself that righteous wrath over our sins—so that now there is forgiveness and peace for us and a right relationship with God.
God wants that same thing in our relationship with others. That we have received his forgiveness MEANS that we will share that forgiveness with others in the same way it was given to us—freely and without condition.
Everything that we’ve talked about today—what our life with God is supposed to look like and how that is done--can be summed up in the last verses of our text. Paul says:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
In Jesus Christ, God has forgiven us and loved us and given us new life AND he has shown us how we are to live our lives: that we are to imitate him and love others. May God give us strength to live this out day by day! Amen.