Key text: “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” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Lesson objective: To understand that every believer is called to the same high standards of conduct worthy of their honored position in Christ. True believers are to “walk the talk” and bind belief with Christian moral conduct to God’s glory.
Introduction: Changes in one’s routine of life are among the most stressful times in any person’s life. Even joyous occasions, such as planning a wedding, or a newborn’s arrival into the family, are difficult adjustments. Stress points are added when a person leaves home and when one takes on a new job or changes careers in mid-stream. Also, times are hectic when one buys a home or has to move to another area. Of course, there are the more challenging times, when one loses employment or when divorce is imminent or when a loved one passes on. Certainly more can be added to the list, such as loss of health, etc. But among the most mysterious and wondrous changes of all is a person’s conversion to Christ. It is remarkably joyous but stressful as well.
A person’s philosophy of life and personality are often radically altered upon conversion. One was traveling 100 miles per hour in one direction and is suddenly pulled in the opposite direction. An encounter with the living Christ is a life-altering event. In Ephesians, Paul reminds his readers of that fact (4:17-24). They are not who they used to be! In the world today, the philosophy of life seems to be “take what you can get and roll over anyone who gets in your way” or “use persons to your own advantage and whenever they become a liability, dump them!” But this kind of thinking is futile, short-sighted, and in the end can only spell disaster. It matters not how much power, sensuality or wealth you accumulate or how you did it, in the end it is all staying behind! There is no hope without Christ. For this reason, Paul urges believers to leave the “old self” behind and be clothed with the “new self” in Christ.
Believers in Christ speak the truth, seek out reconciliation and share what they have received, while the world thrives on falsehood, anger and stealing in one form or another (vv. 25-32). A true Christian is known by his or her good speech and kindness toward others, while many today spew out foul language like a turned-on fire hydrant, and they are not even aware of it! It should be no surprise that this world is plagued with ever-increasing hatred and animosity among nations, races and even religions! For the disease is in the sinful condition of a heart that knows not Christ.
God’s plan in Christ is to bring every believer’s moral conduct in line with the high position in Christ to which he has called the person. And this means living out the Christian life in the here and now, no matter what the stress! Our philosophy of life is to treat others as we would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12), even when they treat us badly! And we believe Jesus when he said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). And while none of us will be perfect in this life, for Christ is our perfection, yet God has set a goal of godly moral conduct for the sanctification of the members of his church; he has changed their lives through the cross and via the Holy Spirit, to his glory!
Paul calls faithful Christians to become imitators of God (v. 1). Now, that is one tall order! How can we mortals, who have never seen God, imitate him? We may have never seen God in all his glory, but we have seen him in the person of Christ, who is God in the flesh (John 14:8-9). Paul points to Christ’s example as the one to follow (Eph. 5:2). In this way, all Christians have a example par excellence of what God planned humans to be. God’s divine purpose is to restore and unite all things in Christ, and this includes our ethical walk. We might not reach the ethical heights of Christ in this life, but that is where we are headed! Paul beckons us to get a good start in the here and now!
In the days of Paul, the Jerusalem Temple was still standing. Paul was fully aware of the significance the Temple had for the Jews. The Temple was their place of worship, where lambs were still being brought for sacrifices. The old covenant had required such sacrifices not only as guilt offerings but also as offerings of thanksgiving. The smoke and aroma of the sacrifice filled the air and was described as a fragrance pleasing to God.
But with the coming of the Messiah, things had dramatically changed! Everything the Temple once stood for was a mere shadow compared to the reality of the God-man Jesus Christ. The ultimate place of worship and sacrifice is now invested in Christ Jesus alone under a new and better covenant. Christ is now the only fragrance of redemption acceptable to the Father. Christ’s motive for providing such a complete redemption was his love for us. Paul urges the church to live a life motivated by Christ’s example of love, an ethical fragrance pleasing to God.
Questions for Bible study
Read the following verses and respond to the questions:
1. Romans 1:18-32
a. In this passage regarding the Gentile world of Paul’s day, what is said of God’s wrath (righteous indignation) toward sins of the Gentiles? vv. 18-20. Why?
b. What was the Gentiles’ attitude toward the one true God? vv. 21-23. Has the disposition of the Gentile world improved since Paul’s time? Explain.
c. What is God’s first response to the unbelieving Gentiles’ rejection of the one true God and their own corrupt conduct? vv. 24-25. What specific sins did they practice? How about today?
d. What is God’s second response to the vile corruption taking place within the Gentile community? vv. 26-27. What sins did they practice? How much have matters improved today?
e. What is God’s third response to the continual rejection of the one true God and to the Gentiles’ depraved conduct (which is a consequence of their own making)? vv. 28-32. Give examples of the ongoing truth of Paul’s claim, such as the pornographic use of the Internet and political and corporate scandals, etc.
2. Ephesians 4:25-32
a. What does it mean to put on the “new self”? v. 25. Is this the standard of conduct among the members of your local church? If not, why not? Comment constructively.
b. What is the practical meaning of Paul’s standard of Christian conduct in this verse? v. 26. What can happen when we fail to do what Paul is saying? v. 27. See 2 Corinthians 2:9-11.
c. What admonition does Paul give to those who once lived as thieves? v. 29. Why? See 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.
d. How does our false conduct affect the Holy Spirit? v. 30. What kinds of negative conduct affect him? v. 31. Explain.
e. What same conduct in Christ has God called all believers to? v. 32. Is this the standard of conduct that your local church lives by? What percentage is in theory only, and how much is in practice?
Respond to the following questions:
1. What is your philosophy of life, that is, your daily attitude and conduct toward life, both publicly and privately? Does being a Christian make a difference?
2. What is the primary stress that you are undergoing right now? In what way does your faith make a difference in how you handle yourself?
3. Most polls taken today concerning the moral conduct of the church in Western society show very little difference in behavior between professed Christians (even evangelicals) and the rest of our society. What is your assessment of this information?
God has called every believer to the same higher standard of conduct in Christ. He has given us the Holy Spirit, although at times he is grieved by our misconduct. May the Lord lead his church in paths of righteousness for his glory!
Author: Lorenzo Arroyo