A Sober Warning
Be imitators of God . . . walk in love. (Ephesians 5:1)
Forty-five per cent of people living in America claim to have had a born again experience, but the born again people have virtually the same levels of divorce, adultery, fornication and use of pornography as the rest of the population. Evangelicals are those who believe in the Trinity, the sinfulness of man, the reality of heaven and hell, the need to receive Christ as one’s Lord and Saviour, and the obligation to speak to others about their souls. Of the eight per cent of America who are evangelicals, 16 per cent admit to swearing, using profanity in public; while 12 per cent admit to regular use of pornography. In other words, professing Christians look far too much like the world in which we live. Is there little wonder that so many are not interested in the Christian faith? Is there little wonder why the western church is mired in worldliness, seeing so few conversions, facing the onslaught of militant Islam which threatens our very existence? What good is the Christian faith doing for those who profess it?
It is with this in view that we would do well to heed the sober warning from Ephesians 5:1-6. First we find that Paul has issued two positive commands in verses 1 and 2, commanding that we always mimic (a transliteration of the Greek word used here) God. Peter tells us to do the same thing in 1 Peter 1:15, 16 – to be holy as God is holy. And Jesus drives home the need to love one another and thus fulfil his new commandment (John 13:34). The foundation for such holy living is Christ’s love for us, knowing that he gave himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God. This is Old Testament language concerning the animal sacrifices which went up to God as a fragrant aroma. But Paul also gives a series of negative commands (verses 3 and 4), saying that immorality (the Greek word from which we get pornography) or any impurity or greed is not even to be mentioned among believers. In other words, these sorts of things ought never to be done by God’s people. These negative commands do not only address sinful acts, but they also appeal to our hearts, minds, and souls. We are also continually to put away the slightest hint of obscenity or profanity. Such words ought never to be uttered by those who so regularly sing the praises of the God of Zion.
Then the silly talk, literally moronic words, (one thinks today of the preponderance of unnecessary e-mails sent daily) and coarse jesting are to be eschewed. The word for coarse jesting very early had the connotation of wittiness but quickly evolved to mean sexual innuendo and double entendre. Dirty and crude jokes, lascivious e-mails, making fun of one’s appearance or body, are totally inconsistent with those who claim to know Christ. Instead the practice of thanksgiving in one’s speech is to characterize those bought by the blood of Christ.
And in verses 5 and 6 Paul gives a grave reason for these commands, warning that no immoral (the Greek word is porneia) or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of God. In other words, regardless of one’s profession of faith, his conversion experience, or his good works and money he gives away, if his life is characterized by ungodly living then he has no reason to think that he is in Christ and will go to heaven when he dies.
You ask, ‘Are you telling us that you no longer believe “once saved, always saved”?’ No, I am not saying that, but the Scripture is plain here and in so many other places (Matthew 7:22, 23, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Hebrews 10:26, 27). One’s profession of faith, if given life by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, will result in a new way of living. A new heart yields new speech, new values, new actions. Can a true Christian fall into immorality, impurity, greed, filthiness, silly talk, and coarse jesting? Yes, but he is different from the church-going hypocrite or admitted unbeliever. He will tremble at God’s Word (Isaiah 66:1, 2). He will eventually see his sin and feel deeply convicted and burdened by it, even sickened by it, and will repent, running to Christ and his shed blood for refuge. He will make progress in holiness. He will not continue to excuse his sinful actions, speech, and values. He will own up to them and repent of them, making progress in gospel holiness. To put it more simply, based on the text mentioned above, the true Christian will find his life motivated and controlled by the love of Christ, a love which is not selfish but sacrificial, not niggardly but extravagant. He will be awed and overwhelmed by Christ’s love made manifest in his temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane and his willingness to suffer untold horror at Calvary on his behalf. He will come to understand that impurity and holiness are oxymoronic. He will come to glory in the language of the redeemed (see Romans 12:9-13.
Here’s the sober warning – even professing Christians whose lives are marked by immorality, impurity, covetousness, profanity, foolish talk, and sexual innuendo are in serious trouble. If this is true of you, then I ask that you soberly, seriously, humbly ask yourself, ‘Do I have good reason to believe that I am in Christ? Do my lifestyle, speech, actions, and values resemble those who have hearts changed by the work of the Holy Spirit?’ Do not be deceived by false religious talk, when preachers say, ‘Peace, Peace,’ for if these mark your life, then there is no peace (Ezekiel 13:10. Paul says in Romans 6:22 that because we have been set free from sin and become enslaved to righteousness we derive our benefit, resulting in sanctification and the outcome of eternal life. Regeneration leads to sanctification, loving what God loves and hating what God hates. The ungodly, on the other hand, gain hell. Paul declares in Romans 2:5, 6 that the goodness of God is to lead you to repentance, but because of stubbornness and an unrepentant heart you may be storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God who will render to every man according to his deeds.
In other words, true faith is transforming, and it is always motivated by the grace of God bestowed on those for whom Christ died. If you are reading this and are not the least bit concerned for your soul, then it is likely that you are not in Christ at all; but if you are troubled by this, if you wrestle with these sins, if you see them for what they are – rebellion against God – if you tremble at God’s Word, if these words slay you, devastate you, then likely you are in Christ. You will always battle sin in this life (see Romans 7:23ff) but the true believer makes progress with his sin over the years. So, heed the sober warning, come back to Christ or come to him for the first time, asking the Holy Spirit to convict you daily of your sin, to work sanctification in you, to give you a tender heart which hates what God hates and loves what God loves.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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