The Gospel-Effect Upon Society

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1–4 (ESV)

I keep hearing that the Church needs to do something to address the social issues of the day, and that this means it needs to do more than simply say that the gospel of Jesus Christ is enough. By this some imply that it isn’t. Social action is the desire, and the timing for that action is now.

But Scripture is clear, we sow what we reap (Job 4:8; Prov 22:8; Hos 8:7; Gal 6:7-8), and America has been sowing some nasty seeds for a long time. Add to this the failure of the American church to faithfully proclaim the truth of Scripture and its application to the life of the home and society, and we have a recipe for disaster. The culture has changed and the salt of Christians has in many places lost its saltiness (Matt 5:13; Mk 9:50; Lb 14:34). As a result, the Church in general has very little impact upon the culture today. We have traded our inheritance of influence for a bowl of political-alliance stew, as it were. The solution for when you find yourself in a pit is not to dig faster, but to stop digging.

The solution for the Church is not to engage in more social action, but instead to return to her charter: bold, faithful, gospel proclamation.

At the end of Ephesians 5 and following into chapter 6, Paul lays out the way that the Church is to “walk in the Spirit” in practical, everyday terms. The gospel life has an effect upon marriage and addresses the practical life of the wife and the husband. It reaches into the home further and makes clear the way that children are to live and how parents should raise them up. It also speaks about the relationship of servants and masters, who in the time of Paul’s writing, were house-servants. Although this could be applied to the employee/employer relationship today, in Paul’s day he was still addressing issues of life in the households of believers.

In the very next section, Paul then transitions to speaking about spiritual warfare. This isn’t an accident. Paul didn’t just lose interest and abruptly change the subject. He knew, as the Church once knew better, that to engage in spiritual battle begins in our homes and our communities. When we fail to parent as Christians, and we send our children off to school and they absorb the wisdom of the world because of the vacuum we have left in their souls, they will soon enough take on the lies and philosophies of the evil one. And as we forsake our marriage vows and live no different than the pagan world around us, indulging in the lust of the flesh and calling it “entertainment,” we will find our vows are crumbling. And when the love of Christ does not inhabit our homes so that husbands will not lead the family before the throne of grace, and wives will not lovingly follow her husband as he follow Christ, we are sowing seeds of destruction that the enemy will water and tend.

Why are we in such a state in our nation? There are many reason, some of which we cannot influence directly. After all, our God moves the nations by his sovereign hand for his good purposes. But we can be faithful to proclaim the gospel from our churches, into the hearts of God’s people, and repeatedly echo those truths in our homes with love and joy, so that our spouse, our children, our neighbors, and our community smell the fragrance of life lived in Christ. We will be salt and light as we are supposed to be. Salt will have its effect on the spoiling world around us, and the light will shine bright against the darkness.

We don’t need a revolution of society. We need a revolution of our souls. We need revival in our churches and homes. We need to return to the fundamentals.

When the Struggles Run Deep

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

(Ephesians 5:3–8, ESV)

What happens when a sinner is redeemed? Do all of their sinful habits and lifestyles instantly disappear, with no trace or spot left? Yes and no. Before the holy eyes of God, our sins, every one of them, vanish beneath the blood of Christ. But for now, there remains in us an ongoing struggle that is a battle between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Holy Spirit who now resides in us. At times, the battle cools and the temptation will lay dormant. At other times it will be sparked and set ablaze like a fire in a powder keg.

As Paul has laid out in Epehsians 4, we need to live or “walk” in a manner worthy of our calling, and this new lifestyle must be empowered by the Holy Spirit filled life (Eph 5:18). The new life in Christ is too often described as something it is not. The miraculous redemption we receive is described in terms that are over-realized; making young Christians think that their new life in Christ has given them complete mastery over their sin. But that sort of idea is dangerous for two reasons: It does not warn of the power of the flesh and the strength of temptation, especially in those areas of past habitual sin. The second reason this idea is dangerous is the fact that most new Christians are told very little about the need for dependence upon the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to defend against the overwhelming urges to give in to sin. The result is that they try to overcome their temptation with will power and fleshly means and end up failing.

In Ephesians 5, Paul deals with some pretty strong sins that were affecting some of the Christians at Ephesus: sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness (v. 3), filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking (v. 4). These sins, like all sin, have been conquered by the cross of Christ. Those who place their trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation have been cleansed and set free from the filthiest of sins. We need to say that more. We need to let the man or woman who is mired in shame and guilt know that Christ can set them free and cleanse them from all unrighteousness. They don’t need to clean up themselves in order to come to Christ. As a matter of fact, they can’t. As the song says, “What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

But we must also acknowledge that once a person has come to Christ and been washed clean, and they are justified with Christ, they are not incapable of the temptation to sin. If this were the case, then Paul’s words of warning would make no sense. Neither would all of the exhortations in the New Testament about fleeing from sin and temptation. And since we are to grow in holiness, and to learn to grow in dependence upon the power of the Spirit, and to wield the Sword of the Spirit, we need to also acknowledge that the young Christian is in need of discipleship, patience, and brotherly oversight. And this is especially true when the struggles run deep.

In our society today we have been hearing more and more about the “gay Christian.” In this passage, Paul is pretty clear–there is no such thing. But that doesn’t mean that we will not have new believers who will need us to walk with them as they battle sin and temptation. They will need much prayer, Bible instruction, love, friendships, and hospitality. So will the Christian struggling with other forms of sexual immorality, and adultery. So will those struggling with anger, gossip, ingratitude, coveting, bitterness, and shame. The list is never ending. We need one another. None of us has arrived, but we are all making our way.

We cannot accept that Christ saved us so we can remain in our sin, therefore we can continue to wallow in it. But neither can we say that Christ saves us and therefore, temptation is stricken from our hearts so that we no longer struggle with it anymore. If that were true, we wouldn’t need the Church, we wouldn’t need each other. And we wouldn’t need Christ or the Spirit of God. May the Lord help us to reach out to those who are struggling. And may we be prepared to go with them for the long haul, knowing that this is how Christ uses the Church, the Spirit and the Word to bring about our sanctification.

How Shall We Then Live?

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:16, 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, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

(Ephesians 4:1–3, ESV)

A few days ago I spent some time laying out the biblical truth that salvation is by faith alone plus nothing, and that some in the churches of Galatia had taught that works must be added to the equation in order to gain salvation. For those peddling the heresy in Galatia, it appears that the rites and rituals of Judaism were what they prescribed, and especially circumcision. Paul and the rest of Scripture is clear that salvation is a free, unmerited gift of the grace of God apprehended through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Although this is absolutely true, there are some who have pushed fromthe ditch of legalism across the road into another ditch–that of loose living, as if this is what freedom in Christ is about. But the Word of God rejects this idea:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

(Romans 6:1–4, ESV)

Paul is saying that by being identified with Christ through the baptism of the Spirit, we have also identified with his death, so that we are no longer living our former life, but a new life in Christ. This doesn’t mean we can’t sin, but that we are no longer enslaved to sin so that we must obey it as our master: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:15–18, ESV)

This fits in perfectly with what Paul is saying in Ephesian 4, where he identifies not as enslaved to sin, or traditions of men, but as the prisoner of/for the Lord. As such, Paul begins to speak about the outworking of the Christian life that he described as a gift of God in Ephesian chapters 1-3. In the last three chapters, Paul shows that justification leads to sanctification by the very nature of the new life.

For the Christian, there is still a remaining struggle with the flesh (as Romans 7 clearly describes), and will always be such until we are glorified with christ. But there are also divine exhortations throughout Scripture to pursue holiness and righteous living. In Paul’s words, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” As the first six verse of Ephesian 4 show, this desire for Christians to walk in the same direction of godly living results in greater unity in the church. Like the sound coming out of a blacksmith’s shop as the hammer strikes the anvil, the theme of unity thunders out: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father… (vv. 4-6). Christ has brought unity and Christian living resounds with these truths. When a Christian or multiple Christians live out os sync with godliness, they are reflecting a disunity that is not true and is at odds with their identity in Christ.

The Church of the Risen Christ should all be following the same drum beat of her Lord. In reality, we wander sometimes. We stop to check out another trail off to the side. We sit our for a while. We begin telling the other soldiers around us where they should go, forgetting we should keep our eyes on the Lord ourselves. We outright rebel and do our own thing for a while. Sometimes these happen.

But the blessing of having one another is greater. Christ leads, and he has given us one another, he has given us the teachings of the apostles and prophets, we have the gifted evangelists among us, and those that shepherd and teach us through Word and example how to follow Christ (Eph 4:11-16). We are so blessed because we are not alone on the narrow road. We have one another to encourage us along the way, help us bear our burdens, and to watch for the times when we might need to be exhorted along the path.

We are no longer on the broad path, so we aren’t to think like the unsaved think because their mindset is futile and dark (Eph 4:17-18). Therefore, may we live this new life on the path of righteousness for the glory of Jesus, not by ourselves or even for ourselves, but in true communion with the saints who walk alongside us. After all, all of us pilgrims will one day reach our home, and we will live together forever with our God. What a glorious day that will be!