LIVE UP TO YOUR GOD-GIVEN STATUS
Dear friends in Christ,
When I was in college I took a music appreciation course. One of the requirements was we needed to go to three concerts. Johnny Cash didn’t count. They had to be classical music. A friend who minored in voice at a state university invited me to come to hear a concert by a semi-famous male tenor. He wasn’t Luciano Pavarotti but he was impressive. But I was glad I didn’t pay for the ticket. All the songs he sang were in a different language, except for one. He sang “Some Enchanted Evening.” Originally “Some Enchanted Evening" was written for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific. I knew the song, but not from South Pacific. I knew it from a rock and roll group that sang it called Jay and the Americans. The leader, Jay Black, had a voice range like no man I had ever heard before. When he sang “Some Enchanted Evening’ my foot was rocking keeping beat with the music. When that tenor sang, my foot was asleep. .
I expected to go to a large concert hall on the university campus. That wasn’t the case at all. It was held in a small room that probably had sixty chairs. Two thirds of them were empty. I felt sorry the tenor and his accompanist. But honestly, if the university wanted to big turnout, they would have been better off to book Jay and the Americans in the large concert hall. While I was thankful for the tenor who helped me ace my music appreciation course, apparently no one on that campus was trying to fulfill a requirement for a music appreciation course.
You’re probably wondering where I am going with this. I think there is a lesson in this: “Know your audience.” The apostle Paul knew his audience when he wrote to the Christians in Ephesus. These were people he had ministered to and witnessed to. They had come to faith when he preached Jesus Christ and him crucified to them. He speaks to his fellow Christians and reminds them to Live Up to Their God-Given Status as 1) Imitators of God; 2) as God’s dearly loved children; 3) as lights in this dark world.
Paul went to Ephesus on his third missionary journey. He spent more time in Ephesus than in any other city to preach Jesus. Ephesus was renowned for the temple to the goddess Diana. Earthquakes destroyed it a couple of times, it was rebuilt. It was a very impressive structure. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, ranking right up there with the HangingGardens of Babylon and the Pyramids of Egypt.
The thought of preaching Jesus in Ephesus must have been a very intimidating experience. With the famous temple to Diana there, the experience must have been a little like going to Mecca to establish a German Lutheran church. But the good Lord made it happen. But there were challenges to remain a Christian in such an unchristian city. When Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he reminds them to grow and not turn away from the Lord who loved them.
Earlier in this letter he reminded them of how far the Lord had brought them. I love Ephesians chapter two. It is a primer of Christianity. The first ten verses are the basics. There he reminds them of where they were. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air.”
Listen to where they began…where we all begin – “dead in our transgressions and sin.” We hear so much from certain Christian people who lay the responsibility of becoming a Christian on the individual. “You gotta decide to commit your life to Jesus.” “You gotta make your decision for Christ.” Hey, how can we? We are dead in our transgressions and sins. Dead people can’t commit to anything except to stay dead with faces planted firmly in the ground. Spiritually dead people have no ability to say they are spiritually alive either.
No one can imitate God when spiritually we don’t know him. The only one who will be imitated is the devil himself. Paul says, “You followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air.” He is speaking of the Devil. Remember one day when Jesus was having a confrontation with the Pharisees and Scribes. They wanted nothing to do with Jesus. He laid it on the line and explained why they didn’t want to have anything to do with Jesus. “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” The only imitating going on with spiritually dead people is with the Lord of the flies with lies and hatred.
That’s the audience that Paul used to have in Ephesus. Not anymore! Why? “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.” Paul was speaking to the same audience, butthey were not the same people. God had changed them. He made them alive in Christ. “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”
That’s you and that’s me – alive in Christ! It happened a baptismal bowl. It happened through the Word through which the Holy Spirit works. By grace you and I are saved!
Because we are different Paul can say, “Follow God’s example.” Imitate him. That’s what the original says, “Be imitators of God!” Of whom? “Of God!” That should be a very obvious answer, shouldn’t it? But there are too many rock stars and movie stars and athletes that enamor people. Aim higher – way higher! God’s no idol! All the others are!
Lots of times young people are asked who has made the greatest difference in their lives, who they want to emulate. It is even nice to hear them say “my parents.” I will take that over some rock star who is in rehab, going through a divorce and being sued for child support from the mothers of five children he fathered. Hey, but his music is good! But even Mom and Dad need to be in second place. First place always belongs to the Lord. Imitate him.
Live up to your God-given status because you are a child of God. “Therefore, as dearly loved children walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Isn’t that a beautiful verse? Jesus surrendered himself for us. He became the lamb of sacrifice, something an Old Testament Jew saw every time he went to the temple. Every Jew saw a picture of Christ. At least that was God’s intent. For Jesus’ sake we are forgiven. Our punishment and death was inflicted upon him. His perfect life was credited to us. When we take time to contemplate this, something we do every Lenten season in our special services, a person would need to have a heart of stone if he is not inspired motivated to imitate God and love as his dear children are loved.
I said how important it is to know your audience. Paul knew his audience. He knew their past; he knew the temptations of the city. He knew that the people were once involved in the sins that once ruled them. Those sins now needed to be in the rearview mirror. It was time to imitate God and appreciate what we have as God’s children and act like it.
Paul is gives a pretty good rundown on how. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity.” The sermon last week was all about these sins too. Here we go again? Hey, the world was like it is. Six commandment sins give God’s children and all others an onslaught of temptation – from the outside and also from the inside. He names sexual immorality – the world from which pornography comes. He names impurity. Literally that is uncleanness. When people sin sexually, there is a feeling of dirtiness that is left behind. There is a reason.It is dirty. Greed is mentioned in the list of sixth commandment sins. These kinds of sins come from selfish and greedy hearts. “These are improper for God’s holy people.” Knock of the filthy jokes, foolish talking and coarse joking. It is hard to find comedians who don’t use sex as the subject for jokes. Clear them away from the child of God’s mouth and ears.
Paul further warns, “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.” When dirty thoughts, words and deeds fill us, it is noteworthy when he says “Such a person is an idolater! God is being pushed out of first place. A great Bible passage to fill our time and place is this one, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
People will often say,“But Pastor, I can’t help it. Those thoughts come and there isn’t anything I can do about it.” Certainly we are under attack from Satan all the time. But is it a matter of turning away or is it a matter of not wanting to turn away. God makes a promise, “Resist the devil and he will flee you.” Time to turn to prayer. There are times when people say, I can’t help it, is a cop out. I have been around people whose language is bad and vulgar, but they could clean it up when they were around small children or in places where it would be totally intolerable. As Luther said, “You can’t help the birds flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.” Live as a child of God.
One last point. Besides being an imitator of God and understanding you are a child of God, remember you are the light of the world. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth).” At one time these Gentile Christians in Ephesus had run with the crowd in a society that was corrupt. The Roman culture like ours was sickening how perverse it was in so many ways.
“Once you were in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” When the children are connected to Jesus by faith, sin is no longer the master. Jesus is, the one who loves and redeems us. As children inherit the characteristics of their parents, we also inherit the characteristics of our Heavenly Father.
He speaks about three characteristics in particular that God’s children produce - “goodness, righteousness and truth.”
- Goodness is what a child of God does that is admirable and beneficial to others.
- Righteousness is to do what is right. The Bible uses this term to describe the righteousness that Christ gives to us because he lived it for us. We give him our sin and he credits us with his righteousness. The Father sees the life of Jesus in us. Now we aspire to live righteous lives, to be kind of people God wants us to be
- Truth is living in such a way that what we do agrees with what we believe in the source of all truth, the word!
Do we fail? We sure do…all the time. But God forgives us in Jesus. But God’s forgiveness in Christ compels us to live up to our God-given status as imitators of God, as children of God and as the light of this world.