Sermon Title: “Becoming a (Christian) People of Action, Compassion, Love, and Unity”
Date: Sunday, April 8 , 2018
Speaker: Pastor Joseph
If you’re a Christian or an Evangelical Christian and you were taught that to become a Christian, you must embrace a set of distinctive theological truths, your Christianity is probably inadequate and not biblical. Below is an example of the probable things you were taught in the church you grew up in:
Historic Christianity is the belief in a body of theological doctrines and truths such as the categorical confession that (1) God is one and Trinity, (2) the virgin birth and deity of Jesus Christ, (3) the Bible as the inspired and infallible Word of God, (4) the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, (5) the second coming of Jesus Christ, (6) salvation is by grace alone, and (7) salvation is in Christ alone. Many Christians and Evangelical Christians in America embrace these theological beliefs and substitute biblical ethical demands with cultural values and political ideologies. Consequently, these individuals serve God only with their intellect, but betray him in their action.
The separation between the biblical call to theological belief and biblical call to a Christ-centered life is a serious problem in many contemporary Christian circles, Evangelical churches, and schools and institutions in America that train men and women for the ministry. To express this another way, your pastor or youth minister probably taught you something like this: “If you receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you will go to heaven and escape hell. That’s all you need to be saved and become a Christian.” Friends: this is a convenient faith, a microwave Christianity. This form of Christianity that emphasizes “orthodox beliefs” concurrently undermines the “ethical virtues and practical demands” of biblical Christianity. This is not healthy for the spiritual life of the believer nor is it constructive to the life of faith of the people of God. This “soft Christianity” does not transform culture, but it is transformed by the culture (See Ephesians 4:14). This form of Christianity is subservient to the culture, and it is not a faith that believes in service, civic participation, and self-sacrifice toward the common good and human flourishing.
I am reading for a second time, The Cost of Discipleship by German Theologian and Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer got a good picture of what it means to follow Christ, the meaning of the cross of Christ, Cheap Grace vs costly grace, and finally the relationship between the disciple and his master. I remember reading that book for a New Testament Theology class at Southern Seminary. The cost of discipleship has revolutionized my understanding of the cross and discipleship.
From the Cost of Discipleship
“Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin. That was the heresy of the enthusiasts, the Anabaptists and their kind….” (46)
THE CALL TO DISCIPLESHIP
“The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. …. It displays not the slightest interest in the psychological reason for a man’s religious decisions. And why? For the simple reason that the cause behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ Himself.” (61)
Moreover, this “soft Christianity” is not an optimistic faith one can count on when facing existential troubles and the harsh life in this world at risk, nor is it meaningful for the believer’s uneasy interactions with others. No wonder American Evangelical Christianity is in deep trouble today because of its failure to understand the correlation between theological confession and biblical ethics. (My assumption is that contemporary (some) American Evangelicals are too busy honoring cultural heroes and political superstars to live in the way of Christ and to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15)). Theology and ethics are not divorced in the biblical understanding of religion and the practical life and experience of the people of God; the people of God cannot have one and neglect the other; in other words, faith and works are inseparable in the biblical notion of the living (Christian) faith. Biblical Christianity is not mere “intellectual assent,” it is a way of life (See Ephesians 4:15-6).
Biblical Christianity establishes a set of demands, values, and imperatives that govern the life and interactions of the people of God and followers of Christ (Read Ephesians 4:25-; they include the following: to intentionally pursue justice (i.e. legal, racial, economic, environmental) and truth (“speaking the truth in love”: Eph. 4:15), to be ministers of reconciliation, agents of peace and unity, to hate injustice and evil, to care for the poor, the orphan, and the widow, to visit the prisoner, the feed the hunger, to heal the sick, to welcome the stranger and the immigrant, to show compassion and kindness to sojourner, to love your enemy, and to imitate the life of Christ. These are non-negotiable moral virtues of biblical Christianity. The underlying aim of the Christian life, according to Paul, is to “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
The call to holiness and sanctification
In the first few verses (4:17-20), Paul is saying that people who are not actively following the way of Christ have twisted understanding about God and their mind is darkened; because of their unbelief, they do not have the life of God in them. They do not know how to live in integrity and act according to godly principles. Their wisdom is not of God, and their way and philosophy of life do not please God. They have also become God’s enemies (2:1-3). In their life, they dishonor God and reject his grace and love. (Do not reject God’s grace and love, that is what is going to keep you holy and presentable before him. Do not reject God’s love, that is what is going to sustain you in the time of troubles and trials. You need to love to love and change your community, workplace, and transform your city.) They harden their hearts not to live honorably and with integrity before God their maker (4:17-18). The Bible is making an urgent plea to followers of Christ to separate themselves from this present world, not to be indulged in the things of this world, because this present American culture is left in libertinage, idolatry, depravity, open relationships, drug, sex, indulgences, greed, arrogance; people in our culture have become very selfish, insensitive to people’s pain and suffering, unhospitable to strangers and immigrants. You are not to live and act them. You are different. You have the life of God in you. You know the way of Christ. You know the truth. Be different.
Furthermore, Paul is saying here people who do know Jesus are presently separated from God and his life and guidance, as he puts forth in verse 20, “the truth is in Jesus. When people substitute the truth found in Jesus, they will be left on their way and to live according to how they have decided that their life should be, and act based on how they treat others. It is all about them. The Bible gives a sharp warning:
1 John 5:12-14: “12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
We are calling you this morning, followers of Jesus to be different, that is to live differently, to behave differently, to act differently in this culture of craziness and godliness. If you want to please God in your life, you need to choose another way of life, which is the way of Christ (Verse 20).
What you should do (Ephesians 4:25-32)
- To abandon the non-Christian lifestyle (4:17) because you have been admitted to the people of God (2:11-22). Two prominent behaviors are condemned: polytheism (that the gentiles worship false deities) and sexual promiscuity (4:19). Christians embrace a new lifestyle based on the Gospel and biblical ethics (4:21).
- Put away falsehood
- Speak the truth to each other
- Speak only words that will encourage and empower people to holiness, sanctification, and spiritual progress
- Get rid of bitterness, rage, and anger
- Put away clamor and slander, and malice
- Be kind and compassionate to one another
- Forgive each other
What you should not do
***Paul outlines a list of Gentile vices that Jews were forbidden to practice or do (4:25-31). These vices are forbidden to the Christian because he is a new creation created in God himself for righteousness and holiness (holy living) (4:23).
- Do not sin
- Do not let the sun go down on your anger (settle the dispute before the sun goes down: 4:36= Deut. 24:13, 15= Ps. 4:4)
- Do not give any opportunity to the devil
- Do not let any unwholesome (corrupting) talk come out of your mouths
- Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God
- Do not steal
- Get a job
- Work with honesty and integrity
- Work so you can have something to share with people
The people of God must embody the ethical values of biblical religion and pattern their life after the biblical God who gives and forgives unconditionally, shows grace and compassion without restraint, and loves indiscriminately. This biblical God is against empires, the capital exploitation of the poor and the workers, and unjust treatment of the vulnerable. The people of God in the twenty-first century culture is called to love justice and make Christian ethics as a practical witness in a world at risk. As Paul urges the Jewish and Gentile Christians at Ephesus:
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).
In summary, followers of Jesus Christ are called to put off their old self, that is to leave their former life behind (4:22) and distance themselves from anything in this culture that dishonors God and belittles the glory of the cross. The new command is to put on the new self, clothe yourself in and with Christ (Verse 24). In fact, the imperative is to “be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (NIV, verse 24) or to live according to the purpose you were created for, that is “created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (ESV, verse 24). Righteousness and Holiness are two of the most distinctive attributes of God. As God’s people, we are called to be righteous and holy.
Holiness is not legalism or conservatism, nor it is a life of social isolation & bullying others who do not meet your standards of Christian holiness. As Christians, your standards of holiness are not from you, not grounded on your philosophy of life or the way you think the world should function and how people should live. The biblical standard for holiness is explicitly grounded on the holy and faithful character of God who has revealed to us what holiness is, and what constitutes a Christian life that is holy and righteous before God. Biblical holiness is based on God’s revelation about who he is and how we must live according to his standards; it is never our standards.
Another imperative call is verse 24 is to “act in righteousness” in the same manner like God. The idea of righteousness is parallel to God’s love for justice.
Justice as Accountability
A lot of people don’t want to talk about justice because it demands accountability–both on a personal and corporate level. Another reason is that justice entails the change of behavior and transformative and restorative relationships.
However, one of the most distinguished virtues and coveted attributes of the Creator-God is justice. God is just. He acts justly towards all people and demands that the poor and the brokenhearted be treated with justice and loving care.
God is the exact embodiment of justice and righteousness. His just character is linked directly to his holiness. Therefore, He has called all people and nations to walk in righteousness and integrity before Him and commanded all people to practice justice and act justly towards one another.
“For I, the LORD, love justice. I hate robbery and wrongdoing.”
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
“For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.”
When an individual fails to exercise justice towards another individual, that person says I’m not accountable to God and anyone else. The miscarriage of justice is a failure of the human heart.
When a nation fails to extend justice towards all citizens, that nation will be under divine wrath and says to Creator-God we are not accountable to you because we are our own masters.
May we be compelled to be a “justice people” and individuals whose justice is defined as a lifestyle.