May 31, 2020 – Ephesians 4.1 – Pastor Cliff Bergman
It is a common expectation that representatives or employees of governments, corporations, retail businesses, or sports organizations conduct themselves in accordance with a given standard. Should an individual make statements in conflict with his employer or the government he represents, he may face discipline, or be reassigned, or sometimes be terminated. In recent years players for sports teams who are accused of domestic or sexual abuse, violence, or crimes, are often suspended, and sometimes terminated.
There is; however, much greater gravity and more far reaching implications to the conduct and behavior of Christians. The first 3 chapters of Ephesians focused on the position of Christians, or their relationship to the Lord. Chapter 4 turns our attention to the practice or walk of Christians. In the first 3 chapters the distinctives of those who once were dead in sin are described, but who were made alive in Christ when they placed their faith and trust in Jesus for forgiveness of their sins and for the gift of eternal life. Those who have been saved, are now “in Christ.” The nature of that intimate relationship is encompassed in Paul’s reference to himself as a prisoner for the Lord,
Ephesians 4:1 (ESV) I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
Even though Paul was imprisoned in Rome when he wrote this letter to the Ephesians, he did not consider himself to be a prisoner of the Romans, or the Jews who were responsible for having him arrested in the first place, but as a prisoner for the Lord. Paul knew Jesus Christ oversaw every detail of his life and so he sought to serve Him in every circumstance.
Paul introduced chapter 4 with the word, therefore, thereby connecting what he said in the first 3 chapters with what follows. It could be stated, “In light of what I have just said about your position in Christ and the supernatural resources at work in you, follow carefully what I am about to say.” Our attention is first drawn to,
I. Our Calling
A believer’s calling is already implicit in Ephesians 1.1 where they are described as a saints, or set apart ones. As Christians we have been set apart by God. Pause for a moment to reflect on that – set apart by God! With an entire universe to manage and more than 7 billion people on earth to give oversight to, God is still intimately acquainted with you and me. The goal for those, set apart ones, is expanded on 3 verses later,
Ephesians 1:4 (ESV) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
Later in the 1st chapter we are told,
Ephesians 1:18 (ESV) having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
Our calling is to become Christ-like in character and relationship. Our calling encompasses the totality of who we are, from the depth of our being, to every thought we think, every step we take, and every word we speak,
Ephesians 2:10 (ESV) For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Salvation by Jesus Christ is far more than knowing that when we physically die we are headed to heaven. When we were regenerated and made alive spiritually we embarked on a transformed life characterized by intentionality and purpose. God not only has a plan for us, but provides the means to accomplish that plan. In the last chapter we saw that He strengthens us by the Holy Spirit in our inner being, the very power that raised Jesus bodily from the grave is at work in us, and we are filled with all the fullness of God. It is little wonder that Paul appealed to his readers to live out their calling by God.
Ephesians 4:1 (ESV) I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
The translation of the Greek word Paul used, parakaleō, as urge (ESV, NIV) doesn’t adequately convey in English the imperativeness of his appeal. When coupled with the word, therefore, as well as the verb form of parakaleō , this is an emphatic appeal, or entreaty, to take action and follow-through. We are to be people of purpose and intentionality! One of the characteristics in our society is the large number of people who lack purpose and meaning. While a number of factors have contributed to that, a key one has to be that God is increasingly being pushed to the margins of society. But in contrast to that lack of intentionality and purpose, whether young or old, a newer Christian or one for decades, we should all be focused on the calling God has for us.
Consider for a moment who we as followers of Jesus Christ represent,
2 Corinthians 5:20a (ESV) Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
We have not been rescued from a life without hope and without God to plot our own future, or aimlessly drift along according to the latest winds of the world, but rather we are a called people with a calling to pursue for as long as the Lord should leave us on earth. Refresh your heart and mind today with the truth that you are called by God to be holy and blameless before Him. To that end we need to be attentive to,
II. Our Conduct
Very simply put, the character and conduct of a believer needs to align with God’s calling. Central to that happening is first aligning our mind with God’s transforming truth,
Romans 12:2 (ESV) Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Fortunately, we haven’t been left to figure out on our own what a renewed mind looks like. Nor are we given the liberty to do that which is right in our own eyes, but rather throughout the balance of Ephesians we gain a great deal of insight into a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called.
The primary reason to take seriously the words of Scripture outlining how we ought to conduct ourselves is they are God’s instruction to us and following them honors Him. Our walk is a central focus in the verses I highlighted last week,
1 Peter 1:15–16 (ESV) 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
We are representatives of Christ and our walk before the community of saints and the watching world displays what it means to be a Christian. Our walk and the choices we make need to be consistent with, and reflective of, who we are and what God has called us to. We need to align our walk with the path laid out in God’s word and illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 119:105 (ESV) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
While we are correct when we tell others they need to use Christ and His word as their example to follow, generally they nevertheless use us as the template to pattern what following Christ constitutes. Whether we intend others to do so or not, fellow Christians watch us and often use our example as their barometer. At the same time, the perception by those outside the Church, of what it means to be a Christian, is formed by observing the conduct and walk of those who profess to be Christians.
Over the years I have encountered people and listened to speakers who are rather critical of the importance of Christians adhering to standards of conduct. Some years ago while attending a service geared to young adults at a prominent Church in the Chicago area, the pastor’s message essentially consisted of his denunciation of the standards previous generations of Christians championed. It isn’t uncommon for people to follow the lead of that Chicago pastor and others like him when they reflect on previous generations and conclude their parents or grandparents were too strict and too rules oriented. It is true, sometimes past generations, and sometimes ourselves as well, were more restrictive than warranted. Sometimes in a zeal for the rules and what they understood to be God’s legitimate standards of conduct, people lost sight of the goal and many times failed to adequately underpin concern for godly living with sound Biblical teaching. Undoubtedly there are many examples of places where it would have been wiser to have given more liberty. However, it is also good to bear in mind that generally, it was because of verses like Ephesians 4.1 that parents and grandparents were legitimately concerned about their conduct, and that of their children. Their inclination was to err on the side of being too conservative in their understanding, rather than becoming vulnerable by erring on the side of being too liberal.
Some of you may find it helpful for me to provide some clarity on the role of standards of conduct in the walk of a Christian. I have found that often confusing or misleading statements are made on the topic. Sometimes statements are made by fairly well-known and reputable Christians who hold to sound theology, but sometimes fail to adequately reflect on the implications of what they say. The crucial point is that often little or no distinction is made between the role of works, or righteous living, or adherence to standards of conduct done in pursuit of salvation, versus the role of works or righteous living following salvation. Apart from a clear understanding of this distinction, people are likely to be misdirected in how they conduct their lives. It can mean the difference between spending eternity in heaven or hell. It is vitally important to be very clear that no one will ever be saved as a result of their works or efforts or righteous living, no matter how commendable, honorable, well-intended, or sincere their conduct they may be. It is impossible for anyone, anywhere, or at any time to successfully accumulate enough righteous deeds to offset the penalty due their sins and earn God’s favor for their salvation. There is a singular means by which people might be reconciled to God and that is through the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Romans 3:20 (ESV) For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
It is the impossibility of successfully living according to God’s righteous standards that lies at the heart of Mat 5.20. The scribes and Pharisees prided themselves with their adherence to God’s standard of righteousness, but even they failed. The point Jesus makes is that a person would need to exceed the commendable, but unfortunately unsuccessful efforts of the scribes and Pharisees.
Matthew 5:20 (ESV) For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
There is only One in the entire universe who was impeccably righteous and that is Jesus Christ; He alone met God’s standards of righteousness and He alone is the means of salvation. Seeking to earn salvation through acts of righteousness, commendable efforts, including following God’s standard of righteousness detailed in the Bible, is the essence of legalism. Such a belief was common among much of Judaism in the 1st century and is the essence today of all the world’s religions with the exception of Biblical Christianity. If anyone reading this hasn’t repented of his/her sins and is depending on their own efforts to save them, ask Jesus to forgive you, do so today. Place your faith and trust in Jesus as your Savior and make Him Lord of your life. Salvation is a free gift He offers to all.
While no one will ever earn their salvation by following any standard of righteousness, including the Bible’s standard of righteousness, does not mean for a moment that obeying a Biblical standard of righteousness is unimportant. It is on this very point that so many fail to provide clarity. It is vitally important to always distinguish between the lack of merit of works aimed at trying to gain one’s salvation in contrast to the critical importance of works that follow salvation. Last Sunday I listened to an interview with Ravi Zacharias where he pointed out the critical truth that redemption always precedes righteousness. It is never the other way around. It underscores the truth that a desire to obey God’s standards of righteousness always flows from someone who has been genuinely converted. On the one hand works of righteousness or commendable conduct will never gain anyone’s salvation, or compensate for their sins. On the other hand though, everyone who has been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, will display works of righteousness and is commended by God for doing so.
Ephesians 4.1, as well as endless verses throughout the Bible, stress the importance of Christians walking in a manner consistent with being in Christ. Christians are commended for righteous living and following God’s standards of conduct. The obvious implication of the appeal made in this verse is that it is not always the inclination or desire of someone who has been genuinely saved to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called. If it was, there would be no need for the appeal. As we make our way through the 2nd half of Ephesians it becomes clear that too often the inclination and practice of believers is just the opposite. We tend to revert back to our pattern before being saved. When that happens, we need to first remind ourselves of the righteous standards declared by God in Scripture. Second, we must draw upon the same enabling power that raised Jesus from the dead and the strengthening of the Holy Spirit so as to stand steadfast in our pursuit of righteous conduct despite what our inclinations may have been.
An interesting thing is that as we are filled with all the fullness of God and our minds are renewed by the word of God, we will gain a growing desire to please the Lord and follow His standards, even where it means a considerable change to our behavior. And the result of our obedience to God and His word, is an increased capacity for all the fullness of God. That results in God filling us to overflowing and further renewing our minds with the truth of God’s word, and as a result we will become even more diligent in obediently walking with the Lord. And guess what? You know what happens next! Our capacity for all the fullness of God continues to expand and that is followed with more of His overflowing presence, and the cycle continues. The fullness of God is inextricably linked to walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called.
In the verses which immediately follow Ephesians 4.1 are some examples of what it means to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called. I had expected to address those practical examples this week, but alas, that will have to wait for another week. In the meantime reflect on the importance of righteous living, the unmistakable result of having been born-again. I know I feel somewhat overwhelmed as I think of how far I fall short in my walk with the Lord and how much I may be forfeiting in my relationship with the Lord. I continue to become more aware as the decades slip by, that the degree to which I fall short of the glory of God is much greater than I had previously thought, while at the same time, God is much more holy and righteous than I had previously imagined.
In an age when there is such an assault on truth, and certainly on the idea of absolute truth, it is good for all of us to recalibrate our bearings since the calling to which [we] have been called doesn’t conform to the philosophy of our world. Too frequently the righteous standards of God are dismissed by assertions that to follow them is legalistic, something Jesus denounced in the Pharisees in the 1st century. Don’t confuse Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees over their legalistic attempts to secure God’s favor for their salvation through their works, with His blessing upon all His people whose faith rested in God for their salvation and who, having been saved, lived righteously both in Old and New Testament times. God blesses His children both now as they seek to please Him, as well as throughout eternity. Perhaps it is worth noting that God’s standards of a worthy walk are not primarily intended as a grid to assess the walk of others, but as a grid to assess and direct our walk with Him. Honoring God is always for His glory and our good.
May the Lord minster to you through the following concluding hymn, Speak, O Lord, written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend
The first is sung by Kristyn Getty, while if you prefer to hear it sung by a choir, the second is sung by the choir of Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California.