Imitating the Father

As we reach the end of Ephesians chapter 4, let’s review where we have been.  Paul’s instruction to “lay aside the old self” (vs 22) and “put on the new self” (vs 24) is followed by specifics of what this laying aside and putting on looks like.

Putting on the new self means … laying aside falsehood and speaking truth with each other (vs 25); not falling into sin when anger comes upon us (vs 26); working instead of stealing, not just to meet our own needs, but to have something to share with others (vs 28); speaking only words of edification (vs 29); embracing the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in our lives (vs 30); replacing bitterness and its cousins with kindness, tender hearts, and forgiveness (vs 31-32).

This life of putting on the new self and having it reflected in these attitudes is not difficult…IT IS IMPOSSIBLE!  Yes, it is impossible apart from Christ’s presence in us.  It is only possible because Christ has put His new nature in us.  And it is only in “Christ in and through us” that we can express this new self to the world.

We can only do this because we carry God’s seed inside us (I Jn 3).  So when we act in ways consistent with our new nature, we demonstrate our family likeness as children of God.  Paul continues into the next chapter in Ephesians, “Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children” (Eph 5:1).  When we walk in the new nature, the new self, we are imitating God just as a child imitates their father.

We imitate God by “walking like God” and the next verse teaches us that the number one way we imitate God is to “walk in love” (Eph 5:2).  Because the new self was created in God’s likeness, His incredible love (the very essence of His character) is the ultimate expression of the new self.  I find it fascinating the the number one reason Scripture gives for why we should love our brother is not just because it is the right thing to do.  Our number one motivation is that this is what God is like.

We love because God loved us.  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (I Jn 4:10-11).

Likewise, the number one reason Christ gives for why we should love our enemies is not just because it is the right thing to do.  Our number one motivation is that this is what God is like.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:35-36).  We love because that is what God is like and we are His children, imitating the Father.

Love is the best expression of walking in the new self.  Why?  Because that is what Christ did.  “Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph 5:2).  Christ’s sacrifice in our place was a beautiful aroma.  And when we love as God loves, we become a fragrant aroma as well to those in our path.

Putting Away the Bad Stuff

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph 4:31-32).  A specific aspect of “laying aside the old corrupted self” (Eph 4:22), is to literally “put away” bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice.

These actions, these sins really, are to be in your past.  We are to lay them aside.  Of course, this is easier said than done.  But “done” is exactly what Christ is calling us to do.

Look at this similar admonition, “To live the rest of your lives no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the deeds of the flesh, having pursued a course of sensuality, lust, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (I Pet 4:2-3).  “The time already past is sufficient” means these activities should be in your past; in your rear view mirror.  There was plenty of time in your past to pursue this lifestyle; there should be no time in your present for this.

Now, it is well and good to say this about relegating bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, malice, etc to our past, but where do we get the power, the energy, the want-to, to put these in our past?

The power to put these sins aside, is found in what is replacing our old self; your new self.  Your new self “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24).  As we let more of our “new self”, our Spirit-filled Christ-energized self, emerge and rule, our old self will lose its power.  And the sins reminiscent of our old self will be replaced with kindness, tender hearts, and forgiveness.

This is what the new self looks like.  These three – kindness, tenderness, and forgiveness – are such great witnesses of God’s power in our lives.  And one reason they are such clear pictures of God’s power in our lives is because they are so rare.

The world looks at these as weak.  But they actually require great power to put into practice.  To be kind instead of lash out; to be tender instead of hard and cold, to be forgiving instead of holding a grudge or using your hurt as a power play over someone who has harmed you.

Yes, these beautiful attributes are rare in the world.  But they should be common among us.  Why, because we are the children of God.  As those who literally carry the “seed of God” (I Jn 3:9) inside us as His children, we should practice God’s moral attributes.  What is said of God that He is kind, tender-hearted, and – as we learn in our passage – full of forgiveness, should be said of us.

All of these righteous actions come down to us imitating our heavenly Father.  “Forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph 4:32).  We extend grace to others in any way possible, because God has extended His grace to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Holy Spirit; Our Seal

Our last verse about grieving the Holy Spirit ended with this thought, “By whom [the Holy Spirit] you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30).  Similarly, Paul wrote in chapter one, “Having also believed, you were sealed in Him [Jesus Christ] with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance” (Eph 1:13-14).  What does it mean to be “sealed” by the Spirit of God?

In Bible times, a seal was a common device that bore a design, a name, or some other words.  It was made to impart an impression in relief upon a soft substance like clay or wax.  When the clay or wax hardened, it permanently displayed the impression of the seal.  The most common seals were finger rings, and every person of standing had a personal seal.

A seal could indicate several things.  It denoted ownership.  It confirmed authenticity.  Your seal showed that you indeed were the one who completed the transaction.  A seal was a means of protection for books and documents (and even tombs) to not be tampered with.  It also demonstrated deputed authority.  When someone gave you their signet ring, their seal, you now carried their authority.

All of these uses for a seal give us a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you were given the Holy Spirit as a seal.  You now belong to God’s family, and the indwelling Holy Spirit is evidence of that.

We are “owned” by the Father; we belong to God.  This salvation is authentic; His seal of the Spirit indicating that the transaction has indeed been completed.  And like a seal of protection, the Spirit is your means of protection; empowering you to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil.

An interesting difference between the seal of the Holy Spirit and a physical seal is just that.  The Holy Spirit is not a physical seal that you can see.  It is an invisible person who lives in you.  Just like the wind, you can feel and experience His effects, but you can’t really put a physical finger on it.  “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is every one who is born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8).

I think it is significant that this seal is invisible to our physical senses.  In many believers, the Spirit’s presence is obvious in their practice of its fruit.  In others, for various reasons, the Spirit is suppressed, or quenched, or grieved.  But the Spirit is still present.  Our role is not to evaluate who is in or out based on our observations as much as continue to plant seeds of faith.  So that those far from God may come close and accept His invitation of salvation.  And so those of small faith can grow in trust and expression of God’s Spirit.

The amount of faith – an important part of living the Christian life – is not critical to our initial salvation.  Who our faith is in is the critical decision.  It is our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins that joins us to God’s family.

And that membership in His family is a permanent arrangement; waiting to be revealed at “the day of redemption”.  Either the redemption of all of us at the second coming of Christ, or your personal day of redemption when your soul leaves your physical body and flies to be with Jesus forever.

Grieving the Spirit

As we continue our conversation from Ephesians chapter 4 about putting on the new self, we come to this admonition, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30).  How do we bring grief to the Holy Spirit?

In the context of Ephesians chapter 4, I think one of the primary ways we grieve the Holy Spirit is to not believe all that Scripture teaches about His presence and work in our lives.  Or to press a little deeper, maybe it is not so much about what we say we believe, but rather do we live like He is an active presence inside you and me?  Do we live like we believe it?

God has promised incredible power and peace in our lives through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.  When we fail to believe or act on these promises, we bring grief to the God that lives inside.

“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out saying, ‘If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.” ‘  But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (Jn 7:37-39).

In this passage, the Holy Spirit within is described as a river (Greek word POTAMOS; translated flood, torrent, or river).  Figuratively speaking, the Holy Spirit within you and me is likened to a powerful river anxious to break free and flood our lives.  But all too often, we put flow-restrictors in the Spirit’s path.

Remember back to the seventies and the first efforts at conserving energy, water, etc?  All the apartment building superintendents installed flow-restrictors in the shower heads to conserve water.  As the white knight in my new marriage, I took it upon myself to remove the flow-restrictors at every opportunity to provide us the shower of power we enjoyed.

What about the flow of the Spirit in your life?  Have we put flow-restrictors in the Spirit’s path?  Coming full circle to how we grieve the Holy Spirit, I think unbelief is the number one flow restrictor we allow, and it slows down the Spirit’s power.

Unbelief is a huge issue to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Unbelief is what kept the children of Israel out of the promised land.  “And so we see that they [the children of Israel] were not able to enter [the promised land] because of unbelief” (Heb 4:19).

The author of the book of Hebrews goes on to explain how unbelief keeps the present-day believer away from God’s rest; the peace and power given us through His Spirit.  Faith, on the other hand, brings us into the promised land of power and freedom that comes through the Spirit.  This is the promise.  Believe it and act upon it; and you will bring joy, not grief, to the Holy Spirit.

Words of Life

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” Eph 4:29.  Words that edify, words that build up are words that “meet the need of the moment”.  And words that meet the need of the moment are words that deliver “grace to those who hear”.

We often think of grace as a theological concept or only related to salvation.  But grace is a practice and a way of life.  We all face crossroads in our interaction with each other where we have a choice to make.  Are we going to offer grace or deliver condemnation?  Are we going to speak words of life or words of death?

Jesus came to earth “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).  Jesus personified grace.  Jesus exemplified grace in practice.  And one of the ways Jesus delivered grace was through His words of life.  In John chapter 6, Peter affirms that Jesus has the words of life.  And I believe these words were not just words of eternal life; but words of affirming life as well.

When we speak to our spouse, our children, our friends; do we extend words of life or death?  Do we give life to someone’s thoughts?  Do we give life to someone’s feelings?  Do we give life to someone’s dreams?

Or do we deliver death to a dream (“that will never happen”), or death to a thought (“you are wrong in thinking that”), or death to a feeling (“you shouldn’t feel that way”)?  Words that extend grace and meet the need of the moment are life-affirming, relationship-affirming, and value-affirming.

Does that mean our words are always rosy?  Does that mean we never use words of correction or disagreement?  Not at all.  Words that graciously meet the need of the moment can be just that; words of correction or disagreement.

What makes these words gracious is how we communicate them.  It means correcting our children in ways that demonstrate respect rather than shame.  When we correct our kids, we need to always make clear, “You have made a mistake.”  But we never say or imply, “you ARE a mistake.”  We can say, “You have done something wrong.”  But never, “you ARE something wrong.”

With our spouse, it means disagreeing in ways that demonstrate respect not dismissiveness.  It means communicating in ways that seek to understand each other’s view.  Early in our marriage, my communication style was more about convincing Rhonda that I was right rather than understanding her thoughts.  By God’s grace, Rhonda and I are moving forward in hearing each other.  And it makes our words life-affirming even in the hard discussions.

The choice is in your hands.  Words that affirm, edify, and build up or words that harm, squash, and destroy.  The decision is up to you.