“The world has become so churchy, and the church has become so worldly, that you can’t tell the difference anymore.”I don’t know who said that first, but I know where I heard it first. Years ago Paul Harvey quoted those lines in one of his radio newscasts. I don’t know that the world has become more “churchy,” whatever that means. If anything, the world seems more secular today. But it certainly seems true that the church has become more worldly. I’m not referring to things like the music we use or how we dress. I’m thinking about questions like these: Do we really believe what God has said about sexual morality?
Do we believe that all sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong?
Will we obey God or enthrone our own desires?
Do we really believe what God says about sexual morality?
Nothing good can happen when we blur the lines God has drawn.
There are saints and there are sinners.
We do well to note and respect the difference.
Saints live one way because they are saints.
Sinners live another way because they are sinners.
Do we still believe this?
Saints ought to live like saints and not like sinners because of who they are in Christ. That’s the message of Ephesians 5:1-7. Our passage has a simple outline: a reminder, a warning, and a reason. Each part helps us see clearly the difference between saints and sinners.
I. The Reminder: Who We Are
Everything Paul says in this passage goes back to our spiritual identity. Who are we in Christ?
1. We are God’s Children.
“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children” (v. 1).
The Christian life begins right here.
It’s not about what we do so much as who we are. Or to say it another way, what we do flows out of who we are. When we know who we are, it’s not hard to figure out what we are supposed to do.
We are to “imitate” our Heaven Father because we are his children. To imitate God means to follow his example. Because we have been entered God’s family by the new birth (John 3:1-8), we belong to God, we bear his name, and we share a family resemblance.
When I was growing up in a small town in Alabama, I was introduced almost everywhere as “Dr. Pritchard’s son.” Because my father was a beloved physician, his name and reputation preceded me. Just as I wrote that last sentence, I could hear my mother saying to me and my three brothers, “Don’t do anything to hurt your father’s name.” That was a really big deal in our family. My dad had a good name in our town, and the four of us boys—Andy, Ray, Alan, Ron—were reminded of that fact wherever we went. Looking back, I think that our parents were reasonably lenient with us, but time and again we were warned not to do anything to sully our father’s reputation. He had worked hard, and indeed always worked hard, going early to the hospital, then to the clinic, then back to the hospital, usually home for lunch, back to the clinic, home for supper, and often back to the hospital. My dad was a working man. I can remember riding with him on house calls, a concept that long ago passed away. All of that to say that I was aware of how much it mattered to be “Dr. Pritchard’s son.”
To inherit a good name is a great blessing
Come to think of it, it still matters to me. My dad died 40 years ago this November, and unless I go back to the small town where he lived and practiced medicine, I rarely meet anyone who knew him. But just a few days ago, someone wrote a note on Facebook about how their family would go to Dr. Pritchard and only to Dr. Pritchard for medical care. I smiled and felt proud of my dad that he should be remembered like that so many years after his death. And in some way that is hard to put in words, I still feel the obligation (a happy one, to be sure) to live up to the good name he passed along to me.Even though my father died almost 40 years ago, a part of him lives on in me and in my three brothers. If I can be permitted to paraphrase the words of Jesus, if you have seen me, you have seen my father—however imperfectly, however incompletely, however mixed in with other influences on my life. But my dad is there, sure enough, in my face, my voice, my actions, my habits. I even see him in my three sons–fainter still, but the influence is there. My sons are like me in many ways, but I am like my father in some ways and so his influence passes on to the third and fourth generations. Just this week someone looked at a picture of Eli, our two-year-old grandson, and said, “He looks just like his Grandpa.” True enough, I suppose, but if he looks like me, that means he looks bit like his great-grandfather, my dad. And so it goes down through the generations. Sometimes when I visit my relatives, one of them will say, “You remind me so much of your father.” There is no finer compliment I could receiveBut that is not the only name I bear. As a Christian, I bear the name of my Heavenly Father. Imitating God means living in such a way that I increase his reputation in the world. When I’ve done it well, people who don’t know God will look at my life and say, “He must have a great God,” and God will look down from heaven with a smile and say, “That’s my boy!”Understanding that you are child of God through faith in Jesus Christ will change your life. Not just that it “ought” to change your life. That’s true, but I mean something more. To grasp that God loved you so much that he sent Jesus to die for you, and to trust in Jesus alone for your salvation, now that’s a truth which can’t help but change your life, redirect your focus, and give you enormous courage to serve God in Jesus’ name and so to change the world.
2. We are Greatly Loved.
“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” (v. 2).
Many people reading these words do not feel greatly loved. Perhaps you feel forgotten . . . lonely . . . used . . . unappreciated. We all know that it is not enough simply to say, “I love you.” Words mean little unless they are backed up with deeds.
Paul knew this, and that’s why he not only declares that we are loved, he backs it up with solid proof. “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” God was well-pleased with the sacrifice his Son made on the cross. It was a “fragrant offering” because Jesus voluntarily laid down his life for others. His bloody sacrifice pleased the Father because he offered himself willingly, readily, without hesitation, and gave himself completely for us.
The cross smelled good to God
If we had been at Golgotha on that Friday in early April, we would have been repulsed by the odor. Crucifixion was a ghastly way to die. The Romans intended to make it brutal and bloody. They had mastered the art of cruel killing. That day at Calvary the smell of death was everywhere.
But the cross smelled good to God. He was well-pleased by the sacrifice of his Son. We are greatly loved . . . . and we know it . . . because Jesus died a bloody death on our behalf.
That is who we are in the eyes of God—we are God’s children and we are greatly loved.
Paul now turns to the fallen world in which we live and asks the question, “What should it mean to be a greatly-loved child of God in a world filled with sin?” Paul’s answer focuses on how we should respond to the overwhelming pull of sexual immorality, a question as crucial in our day as it was in the first century.
II. A Warning: What the Saints Should Avoid
In verses 3-4 Paul mentions specific sins Christians should avoid:“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”We can consider these in three broad categories:
1. Immorality and Impurity
The underlying Greek word for immorality is “porneia,” from which we get the English word pornography. It’s a broad word covering all forms of sexual misconduct. One writer says it refers to “all that works against a lifelong union of man and woman in marriage.” This word appears often in the New Testament because as the gospel spread across the Roman Empire, it confronted a culture that was thoroughly pagan and given over to licentious behavior. In places like Corinth, Athens and Rome, moral standards had sunk so low that immorality had become a matter of public indifference. Do what you want, when you want, where you want, with whomever you want, and do it without shame. This standard applied not only to the elites but also to the common people. The virus of uninhibited lust had infected every layer of society. Pagan religion routinely combined idol worship with temple prostitution involving both men and women. Homosexuality was accepted as a normal part of Greek and Roman culture.
The early church encountered a world awash in moral filth
The term “impurity” refers to something filthy inside and out. It could refer to pus around a wound or to a decaying body. That’s an apt description of what happens to a society that gives itself over to immorality, as the Greeks and Romans had done. Their society was like a rotting corpse.Into that world came the gospel of Jesus Christ with its liberating call to freedom from bondage, the forgiveness of sins, the impartation of new life, and the call to holiness. What a shock that was to the ancient world with its anything-goes mentality. But as the gospel spread, the problems of culture tended into invade the church. It’s not surprising that when Christ wrote his seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3, the two most prevalent problems were false doctrine and immorality. Those two things generally go hand in hand. First, we change what we believe, and then we change our behavior. Bad doctrine leads to bad living.Nothing has changed over the course of 2000 years.We too live in a sex-saturated society where the Internet brings us every form of evil imaginable. A generation ago we went to convenience stores to buy magazines under the counter. Today we have whatever we want at the click of a button. Or we can watch it on TV. Modern technology certainly has made life easier, but it has also made it easier to feed our own lusts.
We laugh at things that used to embarrass us
Here is one mark of moral degeneration and spiritual decline: an increasing indifference to sin both in our own life and in the world around us. When sin no longer seems sinful, when evil looks less than evil, we have already progressed far down the path to self-destruction. Somewhere I read a comment by Billy Graham that we now laugh at things that would have made us blush with embarrassment a generation ago. No doubt he is correct.What once was a red flag, we now ignore or even laugh at. If someone dares to raise a voice of concern, he is derided as a legalist or a bore or a narrow-minded fundamentalist. Why should the world have all the fun? Why can’t we go along with the crowd? We don’t have to do what they do, but we can enjoy watching them do it.I don’t think Paul would be impressed with that argument.
God’s standards have not changed
God’s standards have not changed.
We have . . . and not for the better.If we think we can follow the ways of the world and be unaffected, we are deceived. What we watch and what we read and what we listen to has an impact on us. The people we hang around with, the jokes they tell, the way they talk and dress and act, for better or worse, it all has an impact on us.If you run with the pigs, don’t be surprised when you wake up covered with slop. That’s how the system works. British essayist Alexander Pope nailed it when he penned these lines:Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated, needs but to be seen.
Yet seen too often, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
This refers to the love of money, the insatiable desire to have more and more. It stems from a deep sense that what we have is not enough, and that we must have more at all costs. If you combine this with immorality and impurity, greed means something like “the itch to get your hands on what belongs to other people” (J. B. Phillips). It’s not just about money; it’s about wanting what you shouldn’t have.Greed pushes God out of your life. That’s why verse 5 calls it idolatry.
If you’re going to be a Christian, be one!
Just remember that lust and greed are bedfellows. They go together because at heart they are the same sin expressed differently. Because we are not happy with what God has given us, we grasp after that which we do not need and should not have.
3. Obscene Speech
“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (v. 4).Obscenity refers to that which is evil, ugly, immodest and dirty. It covers filthy talk, taking God’s name in vain, and speech that is coarse, crude and unclean. We might call this “treasonous” speech because it describes phrases that should never come from the mouth of a Christian.
Remember your family name
“Foolish talk” is like the babbling of a drunken man. Under the influence of alcohol, he says things he would never otherwise say. This is especially the sin of people who talk a lot. If you like being the center of attention and have the gift of gab, beware lest you talk so much, you end up sounding like a fool.“Course jesting” refers to words with double meaning, often sexual content with a double meaning, a sentence that sounds innocent but then causes people to snigger when they hear it. People who don’t know the Lord often raise this to a kind of perverted “art form.” It is extremely popular today, especially in the entertainment industry. Recently I heard a self-advertised “clean comedian” do his act. At the beginning, he commented that he had been given some sort of award for being a “clean, older” comedian. “There were only three of us in the category,” he said with a chuckle. But it wasn’t a joke. Many comedians today make their living off sexual innuendo. Evidently using four-letter words and telling explicit stories is the way to the top.
Light speech quickly becomes loose speech
How quickly this can happen. A conversation begins at a party, and soon everyone is laughing. Someone says something light and funny, another person adds to it, and off we go. In thinking about this, we need to be careful because humor is a great gift from God. How boring life would be without it. How good it is for friends to laugh together. If you have a gift for telling jokes and funny stories, this warning is for you. If you are the master of the quick retort, the funny quip, the amusing reply, the flippant comment . . . this is for you!Light speech can quickly become loose speech, which quickly turns into low speech.Don’t have any part with immorality, greed, foolish talk or dirty speech. These things have no place in the Christian life.
III. The Reason: What Sinners Face
Saints go in one direction.
Sinners go in another.Saints go to heaven.
Sinners go to hell.
Saints go to heaven. Sinners go to hell.
This involves ultimate destiny. Two men going in opposite directions may stop and talk for a while. They may even be good friends and spend time together. In the end, they will be far apart.Paul mentions the fate of sinners twice in verses 5-6:
1. They have no inheritance.
“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” (v. 5).No statement could be clearer. The immoral and the impure and the greedy have no place in the kingdom of God. They don’t belong there, they wouldn’t fit in there, and they wouldn’t be happy there. They won’t even get in the door.
2. They have no hope.
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (v. 6).This is the sort of Bible verse that makes certain people very uncomfortable. They think Paul is being narrow-minded and exclusionary. It’s not politically correct to talk like this. Even some Christians squirm when they read a verse like this. “How will we ever reach the lost if we talk this way?” “People have to know we love them,” a sentiment I think Paul would agree with. Nothing wrong with loving people. The question is, do we love them enough to tell them the truth?There is such a thing as the wrath of God.
There is a place called hell.
Some people will spend eternity there.To be fair about it, we should note that Paul is not giving a comprehensive statement in this passage. His concern in Ephesians 5 is helping Christians live so that they please God. If you read the book of Acts, you’ll see that Paul never shied away from engaging the people of the world. He crisscrossed the Roman Empire sharing the Good News, winning the lost, and establishing local churches. Many of the Christians in Ephesus had been won to Christ under Paul’s preaching. They had turned from idol worship and gross immorality to serve the living God. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this passage is all he says about loving lost people. That’s not even his main focus here.
You can’t win the lost by adopting their sinful lifestyle
But I do think he would say, “You can’t win the lost by adopting their sinful lifestyle.” That’s why our passage ends on a solemn note in verse 7: “Therefore do not be partners with them.” Don’t share in the lifestyle of people who are going to hell! Don’t be tricked into thinking that you can live like they live. You can’t! It’s contrary to the gospel that saved you.The word for “partners” was used in the first century for intimate relationships that necessarily involve you in another person’s way of life. Said another way, be friends with the lost but don’t get involved in their moral filth.
Let me wrap this up by noting one phrase in verse 3 that I passed over earlier. Paul says that we are to stay far away from these sins because they are not fitting for us as “God’s holy people.”Or you could simply say “saints.”
That’s who we are. We are saints. We are God’s holy people.
Every child of God is a saint.Saint Ray.
Every Christian is a saint
Some things are out of bounds for me because I am a saint of God!
That’s the whole passage in one sentence.
Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.
Don’t go along so you can get along.
Don’t lower your standards for a laugh.
Don’t trade holiness for popularity.
And when it comes to the choices the ungodly make:
Don’t do what they do.
Don’t excuse what they do.
Don’t encourage what they do.
Hell is no laughing matter
And by all means . . . Don’t laugh at what they do.
They are going to hell, and that is no laughing matter.I write this message first for myself because I am aware of changes in the way I think about sin. How easy it is for all of us to slowly adopt the world’s standards. How quickly we wink at sin for friendship’s sake. How easy to laugh where once we blushed.How soon we forget our ultimate destiny . . . and theirs.
Make Up Your Mind
Many years ago I used to watch a certain TV preacher (now deceased) who made one statement so often that it became like a motto:
If you’re going to be a Christian, be one!
That strikes me as a very wise statement and as an admirable summary of our text. If you’re going to be a Christian, then by all means
Love like one,
Live like one,
Talk like one,
Walk like one.
Put on the Christian uniform
Let your way of life be so clear that no one can mistake which team you’re on. If you’re going to play on Team Jesus, then put on the Christian uniform in every part of your life. If you’ve decided you’d rather play on the world’s team, then wear that uniform. Don’t try to be on two teams at once.
Make up your mind.
You can be for Jesus or you can be for the world.
But you really can’t do both at the same time.
There is another reason why we ought to take this to heart. Sinners have no hope unless saints live like saints. If sinners look at us and can’t tell the difference, how will they ever want what we have, or even believe there is a difference?
We are the children of God, greatly loved for Christ’s sake, God’s holy people.
None of this came to us by our own merit because we have no merit to claim.
We are sinners whom God turned into saints through the blood of his own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. All that we have is a gift of grace.
A saint is a person who makes it easy to believe in Jesus
Therein—at that exact point—is the best news sinners ever heard.
If God can do that for us, if he can take sinners like us and turn us into saints, he can do it for anyone, anytime, anywhere.Ruth Bell Graham defined a saint as “someone who makes it easy to believe in Jesus.” Let all the saints remember who they are and live like the holy people of God.Remember your family name.
Remember who saved you.
Remember what you were before Christ found you.
Remember what great things the Lord has done for you.Remember who you are and live like it.
Make it easy for others to believe in Jesus.Then sinners will know that being a saint is a truly wonderful thing. Perhaps they too will taste and see that the Lord is good.