Sunday, November 12, 2017
People watching: I used to do this standing at the rail on the upper level of a big mall. I’d gaze down at the shoppers going in and out of stores. A group of teenagers, is laughing, carrying on, drawing the attention of mall security. Some folks with walking shoes have no interest in any of the stores. They are exercising - mall walkers. They dodge these window shoppers and keep on walking. A happy young couple lingers in front of the jewelry store. A mom pushing a stroller heads wearily toward the food court.
A football game is a good place to watch people. So is the main street right downtown. There are always interesting characters on Franklin Street. Maybe your neighborhood is another place. Maybe church is a good place to study people.
What can we learn? Can we tell, by surveying the crowd who is successful? Maybe, but looks can be deceiving. Do we know who’s happy and who is not? Perhaps, but a generally happy individual might be going through an unusually bad day. What can discern when we watch people?
Can we, by people watching, know if someone is a Christian or not? Are followers of Jesus any different than anyone else? Should they be? If the answer is no, what is the point of being a Christian? Many might respond that it is important to be a Christian if you want to go to Heaven when you die. In my own reading the Bible, I find that a blessed life after death is not the point of the story. It’s an outcome, but not the main idea. The main idea is that Jesus is Lord.
We are sinners and we need him – his death on the cross for us and resurrection, also for us. We need Jesus to remove our sin and when he does and when we receive his grace, then we become his disciples. As his disciples, we submit our lives to him. He is Lord – master over every area of our lives. In Christ, we discover lasting joy and unfailing hope. We respond to his grace by worshiping God, loving one another, and telling of the Good News of life in Christ to the people around us.
If your impression is that belonging to church, attending Sunday morning worship, and declaring yourself a Christian is all done to get your ticket punched to Heaven, I think you might be missing something crucial and wonderful – a dynamic relationship with God right now. If we don’t live submitted to Christ in life, we might not enjoy the afterlife, even if we find ourselves in God’s presence. If we ignore God here, we might not recognize Heaven if we get there.
In the book of Ephesians, we are invited to understand our life together as God’s church; life lived in the household of God. Each one who claims to be a Christian and to be a part of this church is a part of one family. We are each other’s brothers and sisters in Christ. This means something. It’s not just a Sunday morning saying. This defines our lives. As we swim into the deeper waters of Ephesians, what it means is delineated. It is “this,” and it is not “that.”
A bipolar understanding of who we are is introduced in verses 21-24. Imagine people-watching with this question: what distinguishes the follower of Jesus from the person who is not at all connected to God in Christ? Hold that tension. Can we tell who the Christians are apart from those who are not? We probably cannot make that call from the upper level rail as look out over the shoppers at the mall. Christians and non-Christians alike go to the frozen yogurt stand and the electronics store and so on. However, in church, in our neighborhoods, and in our homes, in those places where we talk with people in intimate conversations, do we see a difference in the way followers of Jesus speak and act? In the relationships in our lives, can we tell the Christians from the non-Christians?
Along with this, envisioning your own life, can you see the difference in yourself as you have grown in Christ? Can we, each one of us, mark our lives out as timelines? We point to a period where we say, ‘ah, there, I was clearly ignoring God,’ or, not ignoring, but, ‘I was ignorant of God.’ Did not know God at all! And then at another point in our stories, we can point and say, ‘there’s the change. I met God in Jesus Christ. After that, things were different.’ Can we do that – distinguish two sides of ourselves, with Christ and apart from Christ?
Being with Christ doesn’t mean we become perfect. Christians go through divorces. Christians get addicted. Christians get arrested. But even in hard times, Christians are drawn to our master, our Lord who loves us. Especially in dark periods, we rely on God; we don’t turn away. The pain we experience may come because we ignore the pull of the Holy Spirit and try to live on our wits, our own power, and our own wisdom. Or, the ability to endure and even thrive in the midst of disappointment and loss is mostly likely directly tied to our unwavering commitment to Christ.
We read the latter half of Ephesians 4, the beginning of Ephesians 5, and we see the world as comprised of people who are in Christ and people who are not. We see our own lives oriented toward the Savior, or turned away from Him.
It says, “[We] were taught to put away our former way of life, our old self, corrupt, and deluded by lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and to clothe ourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” – Ephesians 4:22-24. We flow like streams, leaving behind godless life and all that goes with it. As we move, we are cleansed, purified by God at work in us. Residing in the household of God, we begin to take on the likeness of God, clothed with the new self. Clothed with the New Self?
What does this look like?
“Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak truth to our neighbors,” the open of 4:25. See this dichotomy and see it in the most normal places of life. Are we our true selves, and when we are our true selves, do those around us see Christ. Is the Lord seen in us because of how loving we are, how honest we are, how much integrity is the mark of how we live? Going back to the previous chapter and the earlier verses of chapter 4, are our lives marked by gentleness and humility?
Verses 26-27, “Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not give room for the devil.” Yes, Jesus got angry and so too do his disciples. We are furious at injustice, at systemic racism, at debilitating poverty, and at divisive rhetoric. We are just plain mad when we see the church break people with graceless judgment. The church is for sinners. Following our Savior’s example we are to open our doors and our hearts to those around us who have been rejected by others and to those who find themselves broken in their own sins. We hate seeing those already broken stepped on heavily with judgment. We are fueled to show love.
But anger doesn’t get the last word. We feel it. In words inherited from Jesus, we express it. And then we submit our anger to Him. We live every moment of life submitted to our master, our Lord, Jesus Christ. When our eyes stay on him and we live under his rule, the devil has no voice. The truth about Satan is He has very little power beyond what we give him. But, since we are prone to sin, all Satan needs to do is tempt us and we do all the work for him. Whether by anger, by cowardice, by greed or lust or gluttony, we give in to the temptations the enemy dangles, and we’ve turned away from God.
It is “this,” we speak the truth, or it is “that,” we wallow in anger and follow our temptations instead of submitting to the Lord.
Thieves, we see in verse 28, have a place in God’s church. But they must stop stealing. The transformation happens as they move from thief to disciple as the Holy Spirit makes them new. They clothe themselves with the new self, the one born again in Christ. The same could be said of killers and liars. Forgiven, they are disciples and former killers and liars. We can’t keep lying and cheating, abusing and stealing, and at the same time clothe ourselves with the new self. There has to be break, a definitive step from life without Christ to life in Christ.
Ephesians 4:29, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths.” Instead speak words that give grace. Grace is hard to give because it means we don’t it hold against people when they wrong us or hurt us or lie about us. In response to evil inflicted upon us, we give love and forgiveness. If the sun goes down on our anger, we’d just as soon return a punch with a punch. No, Jesus says, my way is different. Verses 31-32, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice;” get rid of all of it. Instead, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.”
Putting on the new self is “this,” as we separate from “that,” the way of revenge, the way of power, the way of my gain equals your defeat. In Christ, we build each other up, looking out for the good of the other. And remember, reaching back to chapter 3, before this change in us happens, God goes to work in us: in each individual and in us as a church body. The Lord removes our sins and reshapes our minds and our hearts so that we see the world differently than we did before we began following Jesus. Our new vision causes new ways of thinking and acting.
Chapter five describes the new self, “this;” “Be imitators of God … and live in love as Christ has loved us” (5:1).
And then “that,” the old way we’ve left behind. Ephesians 5:3, “Fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you. … Entirely out of place is obscene and vulgar talk; … Be sure that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy … has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God” (5:3-5). Many of us were fornicators, were impure, were greedy, and were mouthy. But we have turned from that life to this life, life in Christ. The Holy Spirit reached out to us and we responded with gratitude and a new way of seeing and being.
That’s life in the household of God – the church. How we experience the world has changed because, clothed with the new self, we understand everything in life in terms of who we are in Christ.
Ephesians 5:8, “For once [we] were darkness, but now in the Lord, we are light. [So], we live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true” (5:8-9).
Similarly, 1 John 1:5, “God is light and in him there is no darkness. … If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5b, 7).
Maybe all this talk of new self and old self, of turning to God and away from sin, seems too churchy, too Sunday-morning, too removed from the places of real life. Maybe Bible-talk doesn’t gain much traction in the places where you spend your time. If you’re feeling that, a sense that this is all nice and fluff but unrelated to everyday life, I suggest this. Imagine yourself carrying the Holy Spirit with you into the most profane, unreligious, unspiritual places you go. See the Holy Spirit there and see the Spirit there with you. Do that this week. Take God with you when you go to those places you would never expect to see God.
The other people there might not look at you and immediately see Christ. But you will know that God is there and your willingness to submit to that knowledge in that place will position you to be a witness. At that point, God is working, working in you because you are clothing yourself with the new self, the person who is born again and lives in Christ.
Use this response time to help you be clothed in the new self as your prepare to follow God in the places of your daily life.