Ephesians 5:1-7 (NKJV) 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.
In our last post we began looking at the wonderful bible topic of grace. Grace is at the heart of Christianity. We are saved by grace according to Ephesians 2:8. Without grace there is no salvation. In the past number of years, God has brought this bible truth to the forefront. I believe it is because we need to become more aware of the working of grace in our lives.
We ended with one of the major issues today in the discussion of grace. Does behavior matter? We are under grace not law. We cannot earn salvation or forgiveness. Jesus already paid the price so why do we need to repent. If we just try to love people and love Jesus that is enough. Grace takes care of the rest. Those statements are true, but they are not the whole truth. If Paul is the primary source of the revelation of grace, what did he say. He wrote the verses quoted today. He seems to think behavior is important.
I am going to try to systematically look at grace in the bible. We will talk about the power and necessity of grace if we are going to be successful Christians. Let me ask a question. How did Paul define success as a Christian? To explain that would take far more time and space than what we have available but let me suggest that these passages in Ephesians can give us a clue.
In the first verse 2 we read something that seem to fit with the view I stated above. We are to walk in love as Jesus did. He was the sacrifice to God. Walking in the love of God is absolutely the primary issue of Christianity. If we do not strive to do that, nothing else will work. However, there is much more here in addition to walking in love.
Paul begins by exhorting us to be imitators of God. When I was growing up I played some baseball. I had some players I really liked. When I played, I tried to imitate them. I wore the number of one in particular. I imitated him by trying to swing like him, field like him and generally play like him. To imitate means you act like the person you are imitating. We are to imitate God.
This implies that we are going to do our best to act like him. This begins with love because God is love. It does not end there. Whatever God would do, we must do to imitate him. If we do what he would not, we are not imitating him. I may be missing something, but that sounds like behavior.
Next, we see a list. I will not restate the list, but it is extensive. These are things we must not do. Paul, the great revelator of grace, says these things should not even be named among you. The Amplified bible implies that we should not even use the language related to those things because it is not “befitting the saints of God.” We should instead fill our mouths with thanksgiving. Is this not talking about behavior?
He goes on to give another list and says that those who do these things have no part in God’s inheritance. “See, he is not talking about Christians there!” say some. Verses 6 and 7 are important enough that I will quote them again. “ 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.”
There is an aspect of what Paul is saying that does refer to those who are not saved. In the end he tells us that we are deceived if we think we can do these things and not suffer consequences. I do not think Paul could be much clearer with his exhortation. He says, “Don’t do those things.” It still looks to me like the one in the bible acknowledged as having the greatest revelation of Grace is talking about behavior.
So, what is the answer? Are we still under law or is Christianity lived by grace. The answer is yes to both. We are not required to keep the sacrifices or formalities of the law. However, the law, and more accurately the commandments of God, are not just legal requirements. They revelations of God’s nature. To imitate God, we still have to act like him. If we do the things in Paul’s lists, we are acting like the devil.
Now all of you that may have received the wonderful revelation of grace that we cannot earn anything from God do not run away screaming, “Legalism!” just yet. Give me some time. After all I am quoting Paul here. The truth is I am actually right with you for the most part. We just cannot eliminate right living from the equation. The question is how do we keep the commandments. From where do we keep them.
I believe Christianity is lived from the inside out not from the outside in. Paul says in Romans 8:3 that the law was weak because of the flesh. God gave the law because humanity had fallen in sin. Their inner man, or spirit, was under the curse of the fall. In order for man to have relationship with God, there were certain things he could not do. Not because they violated some code but because they violated God’s nature.
To give them some way to help control the nature that was contrary to God, he gave them a list of things they could not do and stay in relationship with his covenant. They could not help but do those things because it was there nature to sin (Ephesians 2:3.) To give them a vehicle by which they could restore their relationship to the covenant, he gave them The Mosaic Law. This was a set of rules, consequences and sacrifices that allowed God to push judgement forward for one year.
This system was the best God could do for people until Jesus came. They were by nature going to sin. They could not help it. God gave the law as a way to deal with the inevitability of sin and hold off judgement for it until Jesus could come. They did not deserve that. They deserved the consequence of sin, death (Romans 6:23.) God made a way to withhold what they deserved and give them what they did not deserve. That sounds like mercy and grace does it not. The law was a manifestation of both. The law is God’s mercy and his grace!
This was not the full manifestation of either. It was only a partial measure. It had a major weakness. It had to work via the flesh. God was going to do something far better. He was going to give us access to mercy and grace that would be more powerful than the law. The law is flesh trying to control flesh. God was going to go deeper. He was going to change our nature!
In our last post I closed by talking about Galatians 5. If we walk in the spirit, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Let me close today with another scripture in which God prophesies what he is going to. Everything God does pertaining to man is a matter of covenant. The law was a part of the old covenant. It did what it could for people who were sinners by nature. God has something better. A new covenant.
Jeremiah 31:33 (NKJV) 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
This is our covenant. It does not do away with the law it puts it inside us. We do not keep it from the outside in but from the inside out.
Stay with me now. This is going to get really good! Check back for our next post.