Tag Archive for: Sanctification

“Take up your cross and follow me!” Are the words of our Lord a call to action or an encouragement to couch surfing?  Join us as we discuss the active Christian life in practical ways, what it means to walk in step with the Spirit, and how to avoid sloganeering and bumper sticker theology.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Guest: Rev. Benjamin Ulledalen

Episode: 109

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic. Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly. Send us a message: [email protected] Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

To be a Christian is to be like Christ, and to be like Christ is to be holy and godly like Him.  What does that look like?  How does that happen?  If we are called to be godly, what does it mean to be ungodly, especially in a culture hostile to God?  Rev. Benjamin Ulledalen joins us to discuss godliness in Scripture and what it means for us today.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Guest: Rev. Benjamin Ulledalen, Associate Pastor, Zion Lutheran Church, Mount Pleasant, Michigan

Episode: 98

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic. Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly. Send us a message: [email protected] Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

Strive to enter by the narrow gate.  Press onward toward the goal.  The Holy Spirit describes the Christian life in active, even violent, terms.  How should we pursue God?  What do our spiritual weapons look like?  How do we run in pursuit of the prize while remembering that we are saved by grace?  Join us as we discuss Christian discipline and what it looks like in our daily lives.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. Aaron Uphoff
Episode: 52

Like what you hear? Share us on Facebook and other social media sites.

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic.
Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly
Send us a message: [email protected]
Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

It must be recognized that in any culture the source of law is the god of that society. Join us as we begin our discussion of the Law’s curbing effect in society. What is the place of God’s Law in the life of the Christian and in the state?  Does it only show us our sins, or does it show us a still more excellent way?

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Guest: Rev. Aaron Uphoff, Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Randolph, NJ
Episode: 48

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic.
Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly
Send us a message: [email protected]
Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

Ephesians 5 flows quite naturally out of Paul’s previous discussion of unity.  Just as there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6), so also are we unified in Christ.  If we are in Christ, our head, then we are no longer “children,” or rather “infants,” prone to being led astray or deceived (Ephesians 4:14).  Therefore, our former way of life is put off in Christ.  We have learned Christ, and therefore we are walking in the way of the Spirit, no longer corrupted.

Yet our mature manhood means that we remain “imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).  We are not young children needing discipline, but grown sons honoring our Father in heaven.  Our childish things have been put away, because our understanding has grown accordingly (1 Corinthians 13:11-12).  Being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) is growth and movement.  What was once tolerated because of our youth has passed away as we become more and more like Him.

Therefore, we can no longer walk in those things which belong to the darkness.  After all, the immoral and the impure have no part in the kingdom of God.  Paul is not exaggerating, as if his intention were to frighten us.  “What accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever” (2 Corinthians 6:15)?  Ignorance is a cause for mercy only as long as it is genuine.  But we are no longer ignorant, because we have grown up “in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).  Therefore, to walk childishly while knowing better in the ways of darkness is willful disobedience.  The spiritual man-child has no place in the kingdom of God.

Paul’s examples of spiritual maturity are also rather specific.  Sins such as sexual immorality, depraved in themselves, should not “even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Ephesians 5:3).  Rather, they must be “exposed” or “rebuked” (Ephesians 5:11).  To name them is to participate in them, however indirectly.  As Jeremiah laments, “The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven” (Jeremiah 7:18).  All of these activities, harmless and even good in themselves, participate in idolatry when directed toward that end, and none can claim innocence as a result.

Thus, Paul sets up a contrast in the pericope.  We should be wise, not unwise; diligent, not lazy; understanding, not foolish; filled with the Spirit, not filled with wine; singing psalms, hymns, and songs, not uttering the works of darkness.  Wisdom flows forth from fearing the Lord.  We redeem the time given to us by not frittering it away in useless and unprofitable things.  Understanding the will of the Lord comes from our holiness and being conformed to Him.  We are intoxicated with the Spirit, so to speak, by seeking to do His will in all things.  Finally, because we will be judged by our words (Matthew 12:36), how much more ought we to fill our words with the words of God, singing His praises and calling on His name?  Such things must not be dismissed as legalistic or moralizing.  After all, we are called out of darkness and into light.  We are no longer dead, but alive in God.  We are no longer infants, but rather sons of God.  We are a new creation and being renewed day by day, so that our desires are no longer darkened, but enlightened and seeking after the will of God.

Paul concludes his previous prayer for the Ephesians.  Because Christ dwells within the hearts of His people, who together form a temple of living stones (1 Peter 2:5), He Himself forms the foundation of that temple.  Since He is in them and they are in Him, they are able to comprehend the things of God and to know the love of Christ which surpasses all understanding.  Paul concludes that prayer with a doxology to the Father, an indication that he has touched on a matter of supreme importance.  The indwelling of Christ is a spiritual mystery, but one that has profound bearing upon our daily lives.

This is why Paul begins the pericope with “therefore.”  Christ’s indwelling informs our conduct, because we are becoming holy as He is holy.  Walking “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” reflects this reality.  To walk contrary to God is to deny that we are the temple of the living God.  As Paul said to the Corinthians:  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Paul is even more pointed earlier in that same letter:  “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17).

Yet this manner of walking is not ill-defined.  Being a Christian is not a vague concept, nor one that is immediately obvious to us because of sin.  The Lord informs us of His will so that we are able to walk in it.  Even in perfection, man had to learn from God what was good and what was evil.  It was only when Adam attempted to decide between them himself, effectively making himself into God, that man fell into sin.  “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” (Micah 6:8)?

These, then, are some of the marks of being a Christian:  humility, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, a desire for peace and unity.  Whereas the flesh seeks only division, the Spirit seeks unity.  Nor is this unity a fleshly unity, which would paper over problems in a vain attempt to just get along.  The real unity of the body of Christ flows forth from its essential oneness.  There is only one God, and therefore only one faith.  Likewise, we have been baptized into one Christ.  If, then, we all have the same God and the same faith, it follows that we are also one, sharing in the same things.

Immediately after the pericope, Paul goes on to say that we, though one in the body of Christ, all have our individual spiritual gifts meant to build up that oneness.  This is hardly division.  On the contrary, the variety of the gifts form a composite whole working together according to God’s intentions.  These gifts will come to an end when we reach mature manhood at Christ’s return (Ephesians 4:13).  Then we will no longer squabble like children, insisting on our own way, but we will dwell together as brothers in unity in our head Jesus Christ.

Christians fight an ongoing, personal war.  This war between the flesh and the Spirit rages until death, and it is a war which gives no quarter.  One cannot live both according to the flesh and according to the Spirit.  Allegiance must be given to one or the other.  Christ’s redemption is not a license to live according to the flesh, as if the flesh had no moral weight anymore.  Christ has set us free to walk according to the Spirit, because the flesh no longer rules over us.

Paul begins this oddly short pericope with an admonition:  we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  We owe a debt, without question, but our debt is to God who has given Himself for us.  To say that our debt of sin has been paid and that we owe a debt to God are not mutually exclusive ideas.  Our unpayable debt of sin has been replaced by the equally unpayable debt we owe to Christ for showing us a wholly undeserved mercy.  It is something like a debt of gratitude.  If we are willing to show kindnesses and do favors for those who have paid our worldly debts, how much more ought we strive to do what is pleasing to God because of what Christ has done for us!

Yet if we are like indentured servants to God, but serve the will of a different master, what does that say about our allegiances?  To live according to the flesh, to receive a spirit of slavery, is to be a son of the flesh, a son of death.  The flesh is a merciless master, yet to serve it seems pleasurable.  It is never satisfied, yet it always seeks more.  “The leech has two daughters:  Give and Give.  Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough’:  Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, ‘Enough’” (Proverbs 30:15-16).  If Sheol, that is, the grave is never satisfied, then how can the tree which bears the fruit of death ever be satisfied either?

However, “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).  Through the working and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christians have become the sons of God.  They strive against the impulses of the flesh in order to put them to death, not merely to tolerate or even indulge them.  The flesh and its ways have no place within the Christian life.  To live as if it did is to attempt the impossible, because it means attempting to be the son of two different fathers.

The variety of metaphors which Paul uses to describe this relationship with God should highlight the depth of this mystery.  You have changed masters.  You have been adopted as sons of the Father.  You are debtors of God because of His mercy.  You have become the dwelling place of God Himself.  To be delivered from sin far exceeds our ability to describe it in human terms, because it is a total and complete change.  You have become a new creation.  Do not live as if you were not!

Finally, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit provides a greater comfort for us, since the Spirit aids us in our weakness.  This indwelling proves that we belong to God, as Paul clearly says in Romans 8:16.  But the proofs of this indwelling are not to be found in emotionalism.  We know that the Spirit dwells within us because of the fruits of the Spirit.  “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17).  While such introspection should never be done with the aim of self-glorification and pride, it is not wrong to see the working of the Spirit also in the war we wage against sin.  Real patience, for example, is not proud and boastful, but it is also not hidden beyond recognition.  The Spirit works, and His work shows itself also in our daily lives.

In the previous pericope, Paul underscored the connection between Baptism and the new life.  Because the Christian is baptized into Christ, becoming like Him in all things, he no longer sins by necessity.  Sin no longer has dominion over the Christian, just as it has no dominion over Christ.

As Paul says in Romans 6:6-7, the Christian is no longer enslaved to sin.  Romans 6:12-18, strangely excised from the lectionary, amplifies this point.  Sin no longer reigns, but the Christian who is lax runs the risk of falling back under its dominion.  “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness” (Romans 6:13).  Paul personifies sin here in this section of Romans, making it not a personal failing, but a vicious master.  If one does not have God for a master, then sin will be the master.

The imagery of slavery, though used “because of your natural limitations,” shows the seriousness of Paul’s exhortation.  The Christian is a slave of God.  Our modern aversion to this concept should not color Paul’s point.  If the Christian is a slave, then his obedience is not a matter of choice.  He must obey the master who owns him.  To disobey God, therefore, and to turn toward sin is to run away.  Instead of laboring in the vineyard of the Lord, the Christian who willfully sins leaves the garden in a vain search for something “better.”  Outside the vineyard is only death.

This is especially true for the Christian who imagines that grace removes the need for obedience.  Antinomianism, seeking to magnify the free gift of God in Christ Jesus, slaps God in the face.  The antinomian says to his Father, “I go, sir,” but does not go (Matthew 21:30).  Salvation is not an absolute liberty to do whatever you please.  Salvation is a transfer of masters.

Further, each one will receive his wages, whether he is a slave of sin or a slave of God.  After all, lawlessness leads to more lawlessness, compounding upon itself, and righteousness leads to sanctification, also compounding upon itself.  If lawlessness grows, its fruit ultimately is death (Romans 6:21).  But righteousness also grows, and its fruit is life (Romans 6:22).  This is why it is so serious a matter when a Christian falls back into sin.  Sin is not messing up.  Sin leads to death, and the two ways of life and death do not have the same end.  It is not wandering on a road that more or less leads to heaven, but turning aside and walking down a road that leads anywhere but.

Paul says all of this to avoid a misunderstanding.  Being set free from the Law is not being set free from the demands of the Law, but rather its curse.  We seek after the Law, because it is holy, it is God’s will, not as a means of justifying ourselves.  God’s mercy is certainly magnified when He shows it to an undeserving people, and the Law shows our unworthiness.  Yet God is never glorified by sin.  Let us be careful lest, seeking to magnify God, we actually magnify our own sin.  God has not redeemed us to seek the way of death, but to turn from our wicked ways and live.

Righteousness does not come from works.  Israel according to the flesh is not therefore saved because of the flesh.  If righteousness came through works, then salvation would be our wages, something we have earned, rather than by grace.  Abraham, as Paul says earlier in Romans 4, was saved through faith.  This man who had done far more and glorious good works than we have was not saved as a result.  He too was weighed in the scales and found wanting in terms of righteousness according to works.  It was faith that made him righteous in God’s sight.

But righteousness is not a point in time.  “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means” (Romans 6:1-2)!  Looking at righteousness in this way is to place trust in something other than God, even if it something come from God.  “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord'” (Jeremiah 7:4).  The temple profits nothing if the Law is forgotten.  To treat righteousness in this way is to commit the same error that Paul rejects earlier in Romans.  “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical, but a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:28-29).

The same is true also for Baptism.  Baptism sets us apart to God, just as Paul says here in Romans 6.  To be baptized is to be baptized into Jesus, and to be baptized into Jesus is to die just as He has died.  Baptism unites us with Christ and therefore brings faith, life, and salvation.  But Baptism is not merely a point in time.  To look at baptism like ancient Israel looked at the temple and the land–as proofs of God’s favor regardless of their conduct–is to abuse it.  Baptism and a newness of life walk hand in hand by necessity.  A failure to produce fruit is a sign of a dead tree.

Baptism therefore unites the Christian with Christ in two related, but distinct, ways.  The first is being united with Him in His death to sin and in His life to God.  We have been put to death inwardly, being crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be brought to nothing.  As a result, we have been set free from sin.  Sin has no dominion over Jesus, and therefore sin has no dominion over the one who is in Jesus.  Therefore, we are not slaves to sin.  This is important to emphasize, because weakness is not the same as domination.  The Christian sins out of weakness:  the flesh remains and leads him to do what he does not want to do (Romans 7).  But it is not necessary that he sins.  He is, in fact, capable of resisting the impulse of sin and to avoid it.  Thus, to give into the works of the flesh, especially when one is able to resist in Christ, is to go out of your way to wallow in the mud.  You are not a slave of sin, but a slave of righteousness.  You live in God, and therefore are no longer in darkness or the power of sin.

The other way is being united with Him in death and in life outwardly.  Our bodies will also be put to death physically and outwardly, just as Christ was also laid into the grave.  But as the grave could not hold Him, neither will it hold those who belong to Him.  We will rise bodily on the Last Day, because we have been united with Christ through baptism.  “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Revelation 14:13).

These two ways are closely related.  Holiness is not a matter of this life only.  “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19)!  Christ’s death has no meaning apart from His resurrection, for “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Likewise, our death and resurrection inwardly has no meaning apart from our death and resurrection outwardly.  To be like Christ means to rise with Christ, both inwardly and outwardly.  Being like Him only inwardly means that we have no hope.  Being like Him only outwardly means not being like Him at all.  But through baptism, we have been raised with Him inwardly and outwardly, never to die again.

Christian love, as John tells us, is not a nebulous concept, because it expresses itself in tangible ways.  The one who claims to believe in God and yet fails to express such love toward others, especially other believers, does not actually love God.  “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Christ Himself provides the supreme example of such love, because He has become our propitiation, the sacrifice that atones for our sin (1 John 4:10).  “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

When Christian love is properly defined, it guards against two temptations.  The first is to define love in terms of feeling.  Love is not a warm feeling toward fellow Christians; love is action.  “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that” (James 2:15-16)?  The Lord does not simply express love for His creation, but sends His Son to redeem it through His suffering on the cross.

The other temptation is to define love in terms of acceptance.  Seeking to confirm someone in error or sin is not love, even if the world defines it this way.  Jesus did not die on the cross to receive people as is into the kingdom, but rather to re-create them in the image of God.  Love transforms the other and lifts them up.  “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).  ““And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!'” (Ezekiel 16:6).

Being in Christ means being perfected in love, so that we become like God.  Nor is this a feigned love that derives from fear.  “Fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18), so that one shows love toward others begrudgingly.  Christians are not called to love one another because the Lord simply says so.  Christians love one another because of what the Lord has done for His Church.  We are not called to put up with other people for the time being, but to recognize Christ in His Christians.

While there is certainly strife now, we will have “confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).  Christian love is a present reality, not merely a future hope.  The one who lacks such love cannot be said to be a Christian.  John frankly calls him a liar.  Nor is this merely hyperbole.  There is a fundamental difference between struggling with sin and refusing to show love toward others.

Finally, the forms this love takes vary by necessity.  The Lord sets us into different callings, and the needs of that calling will also differ.  The rich man in the Gospel parable of Luke 16 failed to provide for Lazarus’ specific needs, such as his health, his poverty, or even his homelessness.  No amount of rationalizing could defend the rich man from the Lord’s verdict.  Nor could he make up for the fact afterward, even if he sought to warn his brothers from a similar fate.  Christian love is not about tomorrow or good intentions.  Christian love expresses itself in the present for present needs.