Must we reject everything about our pre-Christian life when receive God’s grace through Christ? No, that’s neither possible nor advisable. Rather, we allow Jesus, our Savior and Lord, to become our teacher. We begin to weigh everything in our lives in light of him. What he reveals to be evil, we cast off. What he eschews, we avoid. Things we do that are inconsistent with the gospel must be stripped off.
Christian living is not merely a matter of adding something new to your pre-Christian way of life. You don’t just put on church attendance, Bible study, and the doing of good deeds over your otherwise intact lifestyle garment. Rather, Christian living involves a radical putting off of your old human being, your old self, your old behavior. Then, you put on a whole new human being, a new self, a new way of being, thinking, and living.
Christian learning isn’t based on religious feeling or even on speculating about “what would Jesus do.” Rather, it is based on knowing about the human Jesus, who was God Incarnate, and knowing this same Jesus personally, who invites us into relationship with him today.
Christianity is focused in a person. This person teaches us how to live. This person exemplifies what he teaches. Yet, this person is also someone with whom we have a living relationship. We “learn Christ” by coming to know him through faith. We “learn Christ” by communing with him each day. We “learn Christ” by living life as part of his body. We “learn Christ” by growing in him, coming to know him more deeply and follow him more truly.
Have you ever woken up on a Sunday morning and thought, “Why do I have to go to church today?” The coziness of your bed, the vision of a relaxed morning, the thought of lingering over the newspaper or a good book with a cup of coffee . . . all of these can induce one to skip Sunday worship. What would be the harm? Why does it matter so much to praise the Lord, anyway? Psalm 135 answers this question in the most basic way. It repeatedly summons us to praise the Lord.
There will be lots of talk of love today, mainly of the romantic variety. But given the theme of the day, I thought I’d skip ahead in Ephesians to the first two verses of chapter 5. Love saturates these verses. First, we are “dearly loved children” of God (5:1). Second, we are to “walk in the way of love” (5:2). Third, we understand and experience the way of love through Christ, who “loved us and gave himself up for us.” Now that’s plenty of love in two short verses.
When we continue to indulge in immoral sensual actions, we end up dulling our feelings, not enhancing them. We become callous to the pain that our sinful actions cause to others. And, in our desire for more “fun,” we dive deeper into the pool of hedonistic behavior. Yet our happiness is fleeting, and feelings of true joy cannot fill our hardened hearts. Moreover, our choice to pursue momentary pleasures often does damage to our souls, leaving us both empty and wounded.
As created beings, we have physical life whether we are in relationship with God or not. Yet, even though our bodies are alive, when we are cut off from God, we are, in a sense, already dead (2:1). The good news is that God does not leave us in our solitary, fatal condition. Jesus Christ becomes the best lifeline of all, who, by grace, connects us to God’s own life. Thus, when, through faith, we receive God’s grace, God makes us alive with Christ (2:4).
When our core identity is determined not by what we do for work but by our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, everything in life shifts. Work, whether paid or unpaid, continues to matter, but mainly as a way of offering ourselves in service to God and to the world as his representatives. My decisions about how to invest my time and money will be guided by God’s truth and eternal values rather than how they might enhance my professional success.
The life of faith is a circle of blessing. It begins with God, who blesses us (134:3). This means that God bestows goodness upon us, giving us material, relational, and spiritual benefits as an expression of his grace. As James writes in his New Testament letter: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). What do we do when we receive God’s blessings?