Monday, November 26, 2012

Conversion Brings A New Lifestyle: The 'Walk'

Is it possible to be a Christian and live in sin?

The short answer? No (Rom6:1-4; 1 John 3:6-10; Heb12:5-11). Christianity is not merely one's religion of choice. One is not a Christian because his parents are Christians. A Christian is someone who has eperienced an internal transformation by Christ - he has been born again (John 3). A miraculous and powerful act of God has begun at his core (heart) which will reveal itself increasingly through a new lifestyle that glorifies God and looks like Jesus. In Ephesians 4-6 Paul calls this new lifestyle the 'walk' of the Christian.
The Old Self With The Old Walk (Ephesians 4:17-19). Paul, with the authority of Christ(v17a), forbids the church to continue to ‘walk’ in the way of the Gentiles…meaning the lifestyle pattern of those who are not God’s people. He describes the walk of the unbeliever with bold and unapologizing truth:
  • Futility of mind – apart from God’s saving grace we do not think right. Our thoughts are bent towards sin and self until the light of Christ breaks in (now we have the mind of Christ – 1Cor 2:16)
  • Darkened understanding – There is no one who understands (Rom3:11) truth or spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14) until regenerated by God.
  • Alienated from the life of God – We are spiritually dead to God until he raises us to life (Eph 2:1)
  • Ignorance – unaware of God and the life of Christ; blindness
  • Hardness of Heart – A willful rejection of God
  • Callous – No sensitivity to the Lord
  • Given up to sensuality – Completely bent towards seeking sinful pleasure
  • Greedy to practice all impurity – indulging in sin and growing hungrier for more.
This is the everyday practice of all who are outside of Christ. This list is similar to Romans 1:18-32, where Paul describes a downward progression of sin including rejecting God and being given over to sin. This was our walk before God acted in glorious grace! These actions accompany the old ‘self.’

Conversion: Put Off And Put On (4:20-24).   Paul now speaks of the radical change that has occurred in the lives of believers; a change that starts within but reveals itself in our walk. This section is very important, and separates this teaching from merely a set of rules that we should try really hard to keep. Rather, something miraculous has happened to us in Christ! In Him the old is gone and we have power to walk increasingly in his ways.

Christ’s School (4:20-21). “But that 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“ (4:20-21). Paul emphatically declares that his description of the old walk is not consistent with the one who has learned Christ! Rather than learning rules, we have learned a Person! The phrase ‘heard about him’ is literally ‘heard him,’ as in, ‘you have heard him speak’ in the gospel and the apostle’s teaching written in Scripture (Boice). So Christ is the subject matter (we learned him); Christ is the Teacher (we heard him); and Christ is the classroom (we were taught in him) [Stott]. It’s all Christ! Christ said to come to him, yoke up with him and ‘learn’ from him (Matthew 11:29).

Teaching is part of Christ’s great commission to the church (Matt28:19-20). We are to make disciples as we go, baptizing them and teaching them all things that Jesus taught. Rather than ignorance and futility of mind, Christ shines light on us and teaches us from the inside out, that we might walk in his ways.

Put Off And Put On (4:22-24). “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, [23] and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, [24] and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (4:22-24). When we learned Christ, we learned conversion (repentance and faith); the putting off of the old man and putting on of the new. Paul refers here to the initial putting off and on that took place at our conversion; Because God poured his grace on us, enabling us to put off the old man and put on the new in Christ, we can now walk a lifestyle consistent with the new man. The ‘walk’ Paul is about to describe for us flows out of our conversion. Without conversion we do not have the power to walk the walk. But through the renewing of the spirit of our mind as we believe the gospel and continue in the school of Christ, we have grace to walk!

Corrupt vs. Created. Notice that the old self is ‘corrupt through deceitful desires,’ but the new self is ‘created after the likeness of God’ (Piper). We can’t somehow work up this new lifestyle; it is CREATED in us when we are born again, and our outward walk increasingly lines up with this truth. This is the process of sanctification. Paul has already said that we were dead in sin (2:1), God made us alive (2:4-5) and that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works (2:10).

Walking The New Walk (4:25-32). Paul now gives very practical instruction concerning what kind of ‘walk’ glorifies God. These five parts of our walk all deal with our relationships in the church, and all help build the unity Paul has already spoken of in length.

1. Speaking the Truth.Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (25). Because we have put away the old man at conversion, and are now ‘members one of another’ in the church, our walk should reflect a different kind of speech. How can we sin against our own body? We are members of each other in the church, and lying to each other destroys trust and unity. God is not glorified to the universe through the church when we do not speak the truth to one another.

2. Dealing with Anger. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, [27] and give no opportunity to the devil” (26-27). The next part of our walk Paul addresses is our handling of anger. We are to instructed not to let anger continue between our brothers and sisters in the church. Don’t go to bed angry. There is a righteous anger, but we are taught not to sin in our anger. Anger is murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-22). Paul connects anger between members of the church with giving the devil an opportunity. This implies that Satan is at work in the church trying to disrupt unity and attack the displayed glory of God through the church by using our anger. God is not glorified to the universe through the church when there is anger, distance and unresolved issues festering between us.

3. Working to Give. 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” (28). How practical these instructions are! A walk that glorifies God includes what we do with our hands. Rather than taking what does not belong to us, we are to do honest work with our hands…so that we may provide for our families? That is good, but our aim should go much beyond that. Work…so that we may store up treasures for ourselves? No. God is not glorified as the great Treasure of the church when we merely use his blessings upon ourselves. Rather, Paul instructs us to work hard so that we may give to those in need! He is teaching us to be generous givers in the church, such as we see modeled in Acts 245.

John Piper points out that this turns your secular job into grace; a means to display God’s grace!

God is not glorified to the universe through the church when we have greedy hearts, thieving hands, and lack generosity.

4. Speaking with Grace. 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” (29-30). We’ve already seen that our walk includes our lips; we must speak the truth to one another. But now Paul takes it further. We are forbidden to let any ‘corrupting talk come out of’ our mouths. Rather, we are to glorify God by building each other up with our words. This word for corrupting talk means rotten. What kind of speech could this include? Filthy language and dirty jokes, sarcastic remarks that tear others down, venomous speech of all kinds.

Earlier Paul connected our anger with giving the devil an opportunity. Here he connects our rotten speech with grieving the Holy Spirit! Just as there is an unseen audience viewing God’s glory through the church (Eph 3:9-11), there are also unseen spiritual beings working behind and within our relationships in the church; good and bad. The unity of the church is called the unity of the Spirit (4:3). The Spirit is working to build unity between the brothers and sisters in the church. When we work against him with our speech he is grieved. God is not glorified to the universe through the church when our words are rotten and unedifying to the church.

5. Kind, Tenderhearted, Forgiving. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. [32] Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (31-32). Paul describes an escalation of sinful behavior we are to put away (O’Brien). It starts in the heart with bitterness, wrath and anger, but soon escalates to ‘clamor’ (shouting, outbursts of rage) and ‘slander’ (speaking against someone). We must put this foolishness out of the church, and with it ‘all malice’ (ill will, wishing or plotting evil). Instead, the walk that glorifies God in the church is kindness in our relationships; a heart that is tender towards one another; and finally, showing forgiveness when we are wronged by our brothers and sisters. And we will be wronged from time to time. This process of sanctification is not yet complete. But we are to treat our brothers and sisters with grace, in the same way God in Christ has treated us! Because God has showed tender mercy and grace to us, we are to extend that to others. God is not glorified to the universe through the church when we demonstrate hard-hearted, unkind behavior and refuse to show grace and forgiveness.

God intends to glorify himself through his church to the watching universe. He has created this new humanity through the death and resurrection of Christ and has poured out great grace upon us, rescuing us from our sins. Having given us new life, we are called to walk in a way that gives him glory, beginning with our relationships in the church: our hearts, our lips, our hands.

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