How we grow from grace to grace

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:17-31

Paul began this letter to the Ephesian church with encouraging words about their exalted position in Christ. If all we read were the first three chapters, we could well walk away with the thought that the only problem at Ephesus was the division between Gentile and Jewish believers. And that is easily solved, Christ has made us one. Right? That would be a distorted picture of the real Ephesian church.

In chapter four we begin to get a different picture of daily life at Ephesus. The Ephesian community had given itself up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. Paul is directing the church away from what they had learned about life among the Gentiles of Ephesus. Now he gets specific:

Put away falsehood.

Obviously, the Ephesian community was not known for its truthfulness. Believers are told to speak the truth to one another for a good reason; we are members one of another. What effects you, effects me.

Be angry but do not sin.

Some Ephesian believers had anger issues. This passage is almost always applied to marital situations and is excellent advice for married couples. When you have marital fights, be sure you make up before you go to bed. Don’t let the trouble of today spill over into tomorrow. But this text doesn’t mention marriage. It is speaking to the larger church community. Obviously, the Ephesians had some church fights. Paul says, just don’t sin in your anger.

Let the thief steal no longer.

Church folks are thieves? Yup! Hopefully, not too many, but this is real folks. Paul is writing to correct misconduct among believers. We can get so high and holy and not recognize that brothers and sisters in the Lord can have these sin problems. Theft can range from petty theft of office supplies from work to cheating on our taxes to shoplifting to fraud. But Paul makes it clear. Don’t steal, but work honestly with your own hands so you can, instead of taking, give to him who has a need.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths.

If you are interested in politics, this one can be hard these days. It seems like it is impossible in our culture to speak of political topics and do so graciously. But our command is to speak without corrupting talk. From the mouths of believers should flow grace and encouragement.

It seems that this is the best way to grieve the Holy Spirit, with our speech. We are sealed or authenticated as belonging to Christ by the infilling and empowering of the Holy Spirit which should be evident both to ourselves and to others. Corrupting talk belies the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Paul puts his finger on six more behaviors that the Ephesian church had to work on, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. All of these are issues of the heart.

Besides the obvious fact that we should take to heart for ourselves all of these behaviors that Paul had identified in the Ephesian church as needing correction, what is the point? While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; he didn’t wait for us to “get our act together.” We are guaranteed to be conformed to the image of Christ, but we are all somewhere on the continuum between being grossly depraved in our conduct on one end and the glorious image of Christ on the other. Consequently, be patient with those who have further to go in their growth in Christ. Do not be critical, but instead encourage them in their growth. Also, be patient with yourself. Some of us can work along with the devil at condemning ourselves. When you do sin, the proper response is to repent and receive forgiveness, not wallow in the mud of your sin. When you confess your sin, he is faithful and just to forgive your sin. Get up and walk on in faith in what Christ has done for you. That is how you grow in grace.

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  • Jeff Adams

    Simple, straightforward. No confusion here. In this life and this world we won’t be sinless but we should sin less. Thanks, Charles.

    • Thanks Jeff. Thats a great play on words that emphasizes the point. In spite of the perfection we have in Christ (Christ’s perfection) we are still in the growth process…sinning less over time, at least that will hopefully be the case.