Ephesians 4:17-5:21, Romans 1:18-21, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 John 1:5-10
The problem with rules is they’re impossible to keep. I have high cholesterol, so my doctor says, “Don’t eat ice cream!” But I love ice cream, and now that he’s told me “no,” I want it all the more. Like Paul says in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate.”
Our passage today takes us into the realm of dos and don’ts. Some think that’s all the Christian life is, and so they want nothing to do with it. After all, this list Paul gives the Ephesians is pretty overwhelming, even to the most disciplined believer.
Thankfully, Paul’s list does not stand alone but comes after Chapters 1-3, making it clear that dos and don’ts are not the heart of the gospel. In the Christian faith, the indicatives (what is true about me in Christ) always come before the imperatives (how we then live). I’ll explain what I mean.
On the way to school I often ask my 5-year-old and almost-3-year-old boys this question: “Boys, who do you belong to?” They’ve learned that the answer to this odd question is, “God, Mommy, and Daddy.” It’s not a control freak question, but rather one of identity. The point is, if we belong to the Henderson family, we should think, speak, and act in accord with the beliefs and traits of our family, never forgetting who we are. In the same way, if we belong to the family of God, we should act like children of God. Identity informs lifestyle.
Paul has spent three chapters of his letter telling the church who they belong to. They—and we—are those for whom God moves heaven and earth to make them his children. His Son gave His life to save us. His Spirit lives within us as a seal of proof and a deposit, guaranteeing the promises to come. Chapter four begins a shift. Paul essentially says, If this is true about you, then live this way. It’s as if he’s asking us, “Children, who do you belong to?”
Scripture tells us there has been a shift in the heart of every follower in Christ from darkness to light (Ephesians 5:8), from pagan ways to the Christian lifestyle. This is not as a result of rules but out of joy for what Christ has done for us!
If my core identity is that I am a son of the living God, then I want to live that way. Being in Christ doesn’t guarantee my faithfulness—this world will bring challenges and temptations. But in Christ I am a new creation, and I can choose to live as a new creation. Yes, this will require a power outside of myself. But good news! His Spirit fills me, transforming me day by day and empowering me to live out my true identity in Christ.
May we not buy into the idea that the Christian life is a moral straitjacket, but live in the reality that it is a path of flourishing for all who find their identity in Christ.
Written by David Henderson