Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a prisoner in Russia. He was on a program of hard labour and slow salvation. One day he felt like giving up. He felt his life could not make a difference. He sat down on a bench, knowing that when he was spotted by a guard, he would be ordered back to work, when he failed to respond the guard would bludgeon him to death. As he sat waiting, head down, he felt a presence. Slowly he lifted his eyes. Next to him sat an old man with a wrinkled, utterly expressionless face. Hunched over, the old man drew a stick through the sand at Solzhenitsyn’s feet, deliberately tracing out the sign of the cross. As Solzhenitsyn stared at the rough outline, his entire perspective shifted. Yet in that moment, he knew that the hope of all mankind was represented by that simple cross - and through its power, anything was possible. Solzhenitsyn slowly got up, picked up his shovel and went back to work - not knowing that his writings on truth and freedom would one day enflame the whole world.
Christ alone gives us the courage to love, live and be light to the world. Christ gives us the strength to face a myriad of trials in our lives. But Christ also expects believers to live holy and honourable lives which bring glory to his name. This is Paul’s point - if we have Christ in us, there is no room left for our former way of thinking, lives, or sins. We must be either for Christ or against him; there can be no middle ground. Christ must have all of us, or none of us. When we become Christians, every part of our lives belongs to him.
We come to our next sermon in our series “The Riches of God’s Grace” given to all faithful followers of Christ. We have seen the benefits of saving grace, now we come to the behaviours connected to serving grace. Paul tells us the power of Christ’s saving love must lead to us to Reflect his glory; we must Refrain from sinful behaviour and Radiate his light and love to all we meet. We must be able to say, and people must see Christ in us: the hope of glory. He is our everything.
1. Love Reflects vs. 1-2
Up to this point in the letter, Paul has been speaking of God’s grace towards believers and His church. In Chapter 4, we were called to walk in a manner worthy of the unifying grace we have received, by reflecting Christ’s loving salvation to those around us. The opening verses of this chapter binds together all Paul has been speaking about. Christ’s sacrificial love on the cross has brought unity, not only within the church, but also within the hearts of believers. So in the light of this great love, Paul says we are to “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God vs. 1-2”.
We have all been in situations where we have heard children using inappropriate language or seen bad behaviour. If we are honest with ourselves, our first reaction is to wonder what kind of example his or her parents are setting for them. Often, their inappropriate behaviour or language is a direct reflection on their parents. In the same way, our behaviour must reflect our Saviour. We are called to be imitators of God. This means that God’s values, God’s thinking; God’s ways must become our ways. Our union with Christ must be reflected in our actions. So for us to be imitators of God, it means that we must reflect His glory, His power, but most of all, Christ in us. In the book of Leviticus, God commands his people: “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy 11:44a.” Our lives must imitate, reflect, or copy the character of God. R.C. Sproul says: “An imitation is a copy based upon an authentic original. The authentic fountainhead, the original source of righteousness is God himself, and God’s people are called to bear witness to the original and to the authentic… As the sons and daughters of God, we are to reflect the character of our parent, our heavenly Father”.
The attitude of our hearts must be reflected in our actions. We know the way a person walks indicates a great deal about his purpose and character. So we are told to walk in love, since Christ loved us first. He demonstrated this love by dying on the cross for our sins. Because of Christ’s loving, sin-bearing sacrifice for us, we must reflect this love in every aspect of our lives and, in so doing, we will show that we are children of God. Love is the fundamental characteristic of the Christian life.
Love Refrains vs. 3-5
Paul has called us to imitate Christ and reflect His saving love in the way we live our lives. Now, he tells us that love doesn’t just tell us what to do, but also what not to do. True faith and love calls us to refrain from former sinful behaviour. Paul is pretty explicit in his warning to us: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 3-4.” Paul is not calling us to sinless perfection, because we will all struggle with sin this side of heaven. But if we claim to love Christ, with all of our heart and mind, then we cannot be involved in our former sins or our former lives. Theoretically, we have left these things behind us. It is interesting that Paul links three very visible sins together. Sexual immorality, greed, and foul language. There is a myriad more sins which we can add here, but these three are specifically named, since they break down the unity in the body of Christ which impairs our witness to the world.
Sexual immorality is defined as any form of sexual behaviour outside the God-given covenant of marriage. Greed is when we want something which belongs to someone else. It is breaking the tenth commandment. Foul or crude language is any language which promotes sinful behaviour and breaks down other people. Paul is very clearly telling us to steer clear of these types of actions.
We don’t follow Biblical laws because of fear, or some rigid sense of tradition. Instead we follow these laws because we love God and we are called to be holy, as He is holy. This seems like an impossible command. Many of us battle temptation every day. We have a swear word at the tip of our tongues when another driver cuts in front of us. Coveting things has never been easier with numerous online shops. How do we continue to fight against our old sins? Remember this, whenever we are faced by the temptation to sin, we should stop and ask ourselves: which is more important, temptation or Jesus? For we cannot claim to love Christ and live in sin. The way to counteract all these temptations is to continuously give praise, worship and honour to God. If our eyes are focussed on Him, they will not be fixated on sin.
Paul tells us that if we claim to be Christians and yet these sins are prevalent, this is the outcome: “No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God vs. 5” This seems to be contradictory to what the Bible has taught us about the love of God and His grace towards us. If a person proclaims Christ, but their lifestyle is characterised by consistent, habitual, repeatable sins, with no effort to turn away from these, the question has to be asked – has this person truly received Jesus into their heart? Do they have saving faith? If I am repeatedly sinning, am I saved? This is what Paul means by being outside the kingdom of God, because that person was never truly in it in the first place. They only thought they were. This sounds harsh to us, but the reality is that profession of faith must be accompanied by concrete action. As Christians, we cannot judge another’s person’s heart, but the Bible tells does us we shall know them by their fruits, in other words, their actions.
Love Radiates vs. 6-8
We have seen that love reflects Christ and refrains from evil. Paul now echoes the words of Jesus – the light from a city on a hill cannot be hidden. It radiates out to all around. In the same way, our love for Christ must radiate out of us and banish the darkness both within and without. Paul says: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light vs. 6-8” There are many preachers today, who in order to get people into their churches, will downplay sin. They will tell you about all the benefits of following Christ, without mentioning the cost of discipleship. They will sell you Jesus as Saviour, but leave out the fact that he needs to be Lord of our lives. If we allow ourselves to be deceived by these preachers, Paul tells us we too face the very real possibility of being judged in the same way they will be. So we are not to partner with them, to walk with them, to listen to them. They are heretics and false prophets.
Instead, we need to listen to the full counsel of God, preached from our pulpit. As we read the Scriptures every day, we must allow it to be the light that exposes the darkness of our hearts. For as our earlier story tells us, because of a simple and powerful cross, all mankind was rescued from darkness. The cross banished the power of sin and its penalty from the world and more importantly from the human heart. Paul does not say that we lived in darkness. Instead, in our former lives, we were darkness. It was the black darkness of our hearts that brought about our just condemnation. However, we are no longer darkness, but we are light in the Lord. Jesus said in Matthew “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven 5:16”. So, we are called to let this light shine out of us. It must radiate out of us, people must see that we are different. For light and darkness cannot exist in our hearts at the same time. Only Jesus, the Lord of light can banish the darkness. Let His light shine into your hearts anew this morning. So that His light may radiate out of our lives and point all we meet to the Lord of light.
When we give our lives to Jesus and allow His light to radiate out of us, our lives change irreversibly. When we give up our old sins, our former lives and our past, there may be consequences. We might have to say goodbye to some former friends, to old habits and to familiar haunts. On the other hand, we find unexpected joys and an eternal hope. We find new friends in church and at Fellowship groups. We find ways of giving back to our community and outreaches. We find new ways of worship and joyous celebration. We find an unlimited treasure chest in the Bible, we find wisdom and answers to the hardest questions. We find peace in our darkest moments. We find that we are saved for a future glory, but also for a new life, right here, right now.
F.B. Meyer writes: “When I was in Tasmania, I was shown a great mountain range on which was a vast lake, fifty-two miles in circumference. The overflow yielded a perennial waterfall of a thousand feet, the force of which was translated into electricity which made light and power cheap for great factories and for domestic needs. It seemed to me, as I thought about it, that the great sheet of water resembled the Love of God, in its longing to help mankind; that the descending waterfall might be taken to illustrate the Incarnation of our Saviour, who was the Sent-One of the Eternal Trinity; and that the electric current, invisible but mighty, was typical of the Holy Spirit, who brings to our hearts the Light and Power of the Divine Nature. The lesson is obvious, that as the manufacturer or the scientist invents machinery to meet the conditions on which alone the electric current can do its work, so must we learn to adapt ourselves to receive and transmit the power and light of God, which comes to us through our union with Jesus.”
Let us live each day, radiating the life, love, and light of Jesus Christ.