Tag Archives: preaching

Ephesians: Living Out Unity in Oneness (4:1-6)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on May 25th, 2014:

Conforming

When you join an organization or group, you pledge yourself to live an act in accordance with the standards and regulations of that group. You accept their aims, objectives, goals, and standards as your own. This can be illustrated in a number of ways really. When you are born and grow up in this country, or come over to this country from another country, you pledge yourself to abide by the laws of this country. You must drive sober and with a license, you must pay taxes if you work, you can’t commit homicide, and there are many other laws you are required to follow as part of being an American citizen. If you refuse to abide by these regulations, then they have a place for those who refuse to submit—prison. When you get a job you are obligated to work according to the rules, standards, and purposes of the company. When you join an athletic team or something at school, you pledge yourself to conform to the standards and purposes of whatever you join. I remember in high school, when I was joining FFA, I had to do a certain amount of service projects, memorize the FFA Creed, and many other requirements.

It doesn’t matter what you join—you obligate yourself to live and act in accordance with the standards and aims and goals of that group. And in the place where this truth ought to be most prevalent, most greatly expressed, is where it is nearly lost—and it’s in the church of God—this idea of conforming to the standards of being a part of the church is nearly lost. Too many times, we as believers are glad to have the secure salvation, the blessings and promises of the gospel, but we don’t have near as much gladness when it comes to living responsibly as a Christian and conforming to the standards of what it means to be “in Christ” and obey the commands of Scripture. When we received Jesus Christ as our Savior, we were made alive, we became children of God, new creations, redeemed persons—but we also became a part of the body of Christ and with the great honors and privileges of being in this body come great responsibilities and duties. And that is why I believe that Paul urges the Ephesians (and us today): “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).

The Text: Ephesians 4:1-6

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Prisoner for the Lord (Again)

First, Paul writes “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Paul begins by saying, “I therefore,” indicating that this is a new section in Ephesians. He’s talked all about who we are in Christ throughout the first three chapters and now finishes this letter with these last three chapters talking about what we are to do as believers in Christ. And the very first thing Paul says concerning how we are to live as believers in Christ is living in unity—that’s what this passage of Scripture is about. If we are reconciled into one body (2:14-22), how shall we then live? He doesn’t leave us wondering but writes chapter 4 to answer that question.

This passage of Scripture may even rewrite your understanding of unity—because I believe that our biblical belief about unity is often blurred. We think, “Well, no one is quarreling with me. I must be living in unity,” or “I don’t cause anyone here any problems, I must be living in unity.” But it is much more than just staying out of people’s way. Unity is all about action, as this text will show. It involves all of our life as believers. Unity is a word that we need to put under the category of action words. It is a lifestyle meant to be maintained.

But as Paul begins this passage, he once again refers to himself as a “prisoner for the Lord.” He has already done that once in 3:1. Why do you suppose he refers to himself this way again? Well we know from seeing Paul’s attitude about his suffering in chapter 3, that he wasn’t focused on his difficulty but on God. Paul’s focus was never on the present difficulty but on God. By Paul saying this again, he is appealing to them as an apostle that this kind of unified living is worth it! He is referring to his own costly commitment. He was imprisoned for the sake of those whom he now addresses, and because he was committed to the unity that he now requests of them. I wonder. . . Do we see unified living that way? Do we see it as worth it? Unified living, as the text will reveal, is very costly. It means counting others greater than yourself, it means being gentle to others when they don’t deserve it, it means being patient with those who are not patient, it means loving people in the church with a God-like love, it means costly commitment. It means “walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Unified living is worth it because we display to the world that we belong to Christ and the power of His marvelous grace to reconcile peoples together into one body and completely eradicate the barriers that once separated us—the racial barriers, the financial barriers, the ideological barriers, the social barriers—and unites us into one body with one purpose and that is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Do you see unity that way? Do you think it is really worth it?

We might as well start living in unity now, because you know when we get to heaven and the multitude of redeemed peoples from every tribe, tongue and nation on the earth are gathered around the throne (Rev. 5:9; 7:9), we are going to be singing one song to the Lord together, throughout all eternity—we better get ourselves ready for that day by living in unity right now. If you don’t like the idea of unity and unified living, then I’m not sure heaven is really the place you’re looking for!

Walk Worthy

So we’ve seen that Paul viewed unified living as worth it and now still in this first verse we see that he calls his readers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” He tells them to walk worthy. The Greek word for “walk” here is peripateo and it means to “tread all around . . . to give proof of ability.” Now read it that way. “I urge you to show proof of your ability to live your Christian life by walking worthy of your great calling into the kingdom of God.” And the Bible itself also uses the language of “walk” to talk about the whole of our Christian lives. When Paul says “walk in a manner worthy,” it’s important to understand what he means. He doesn’t mean that you need to live in a way that is worthy so that you will be called by God. He doesn’t identify with Mormon doctrine, that you must live right and do right to be counted worthy of the death of Christ—there is nothing we have done and nothing we can do that would make us deserving of the death of Christ. Look at what Paul says here: “Walk in a manner in accordance of your calling.” He isn’t saying to live worthy to be called, but to live worthy because you are called.

There are a few passages in the New Testament where Paul uses this same language. When Paul prays for the Colossian believers that they would receive spiritual wisdom and understanding: “So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). And when Paul talks about his ministry to the Thessalonian believers, “We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). And last in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

The Believer’s Calling

This calling Paul refers to here (“walk worthy of the calling . . .”) is talking about the divine invitation we receive from God at conversion—when God calls us to come to Himself and be saved—when God calls us to repentance and faith at conversion. The Greek word here is klesis meaning “an invitation to a banquet.” And isn’t that what God does at salvation? He invites us into His kingdom, His blessings, His kingdom, His work—He says “Welcome to My plan, welcome to My story, welcome to My grand story of redemption—you’re now involved.” And He overcomes our resistance to Him and gives us new spiritual life all in one moment. It’s not that you cannot resist His call, but if you are saved, then that is evidence that God overcame your resistance to Him. You can’t overcome it—you have no power or ability to do so. God by His grace must do so. Paul has referred to the believer’s calling already in Ephesians: “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18). The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb. 3:1). And the apostle Peter, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10).

So it is on the basis of God’s great salvation work in us that we are exhorted from the Bible to lead lives that are in keeping with our high calling. Are you living worthy of your salvation?

How to Live Worthy

Well, you say, “How do I know if I’m living worthy of my calling to salvation? How do I know if I’m living worthy?” Thankfully for you who wonder that, Paul has not left you without a standard to follow. He tells us in the next verse how we are to live worthy of our calling: “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). Paul names here four graces: humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance. We’re going to talk about each of them individually. It’s also important to see that these characteristics are progressive. They start with the ego, an examining of oneself and then they move on to our loving relations with the church. In order to attain true unity, we must exercise each of these graces:

Humility

Humility is essential for the Christian life, but it’s also essential for church unity. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He gives a description of true Christian character and the first thing He ever says is “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Why do you suppose that humility is first? Because without it, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures even say that God will resist you if you are proud. Because in humility, you recognize your need for a Savior and you realize your spiritual poverty apart from God.

But how does it apply to living in church unity? If we are exercising humility, we will see each other as we truly are: Sinners in need of a Savior and saved by the same grace. That has great implications. We won’t think we’re better than each other, we’ll be focused on the salvation found in Christ, we will be obedient to Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” A few other Scriptures are helpful at this point: Colossians 3:12, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” And in Philippians 2 we have that great example of humility, but before it, Paul commands humility, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Are you exercising humility toward each other? Let us recognize ourselves as we truly are and pray that God would give us a humble attitude toward those in our local congregation. Not only are we to exercise humility towards each other, but also gentleness.

Gentleness

If you have a KJV, here it probably reads meekness. But that’s what the word “gentleness” means here anyway. We are to exercise gentleness towards each other. Gentleness in our actions, gentleness in our speech, and gentleness in our thoughts. Gentleness/meekness is not weakness.We need to be gentle in our correction towards one another. We don’t grab each other’s shirt collars and say, “You shouldn’t be doing that!” But instead we “speak the truth in love with [our] neighbor” (Eph. 4:15). We need to be gentle in all of our conduct. Check out 2 Timothy 2:24-25, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

Are you exercising gentleness toward each other? Are we being gentle towards one another or are we being rough and verbally violent? Do we have hardened hearts toward our people or gentle hearts? Not only are we to exercise humility and gentleness/meekness, but also patience.

Patience

I want you to know that this is not just an abstract Christian characteristic. The Greek word here is makrothumia and it means “patience in relation to people.” We are to be patient with those who are young in Christ. Children make mistakes and learn from those mistakes while they are growing up. You don’t give up on a child because he pours too much milk in his cereal and spills it on the table, you help them and you are patient with them. In the same way, let’s be patient with those who are still growing in their faith—Oh wait, that’s every single one of us. We need to be patient with each other in our different sin struggles that we have. We need to be patient with each other. Having patience also means not being immediately angry when you are wronged.

Are you exercising patience towards one another or does your fuse blow real quick with those around you?

Not only are we to exercise humbleness towards each other, gentleness and patience towards each other, but also Paul says, “bearing with one another in love.”

Forbearing Love

The Greek word for bearing here is anechomai and here’s what it means: “to hold oneself up against.” Don’t you know the comfort someone brings when they just listen to you in your time of need? Don’t you know the comfort one brings when they take time out for you and listen to your concerns? We need to have bearing love for one another. We need to be obedient to Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

John MacArthur writes, “When someone staggers, we help steady the load. If he is straining, we help bear the burden. And if he stumbles, we lift him up. Helping fellow believers carry the weight of their worldly troubles is one of the chief practical duties that ought to consume every Christian” (1).

To those who are strong in the faith, listen to Paul’s words in Romans 15, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Similarly, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14).

I’ve heard it said before that the Christian life is like climbing a mountain. Consider what you would need to climb a mountain. First, you need a partner who gives and responds to clear commands. You both must know and say the same commands and use the same terminology in voicing commands. When the climber yells, “Rope!” his partner needs to know that he is tossing down a rope and avoid getting hit by it. Our Christian walk together is much like mountain climbing. We journey through rough terrain at times, and offer encouragement to one another to endure to the end. When we see someone struggling, we need to help him or her so that he or she does not become ensnared by sin.

Who is your mountain climbing partner in your Christian walk? Are you exercising forbearing love towards each other?

The Unity of the Spirit

We have seen that unity is costly, but it is worth it because we display to the world the unifying power of the gospel. We have seen that we are to walk worthy of our calling, and we have seen how we are to do that by exercising humility and gentleness with patience and forbearing love. Now Paul tells them why they are to live exercising those characteristics: “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). Paul urged his readers to live out those characteristics so to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

I hope you noticed that most of those characteristics discussed earlier are fruits of the Spirit. You know what that means? You cannot produce them. You can only surrender yourself over to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to produce those things in you. The same thing applies here: The unity of the body of Christ was and is created by the Spirit. The church’s unity is described here as a unity that the Spirit creates, thus it is not your own achievement. It is the Spirit’s work. You recall that it was the Spirit of God who united us into one body: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Some say that this baptism of the Holy Spirit is a separate experience. But that cannot be true because the Bible says that the baptism of the Spirit is when you are united to the body. It’s not when you get special gifts—it’s when you partake of the same Spirit that rose Christ Jesus from the dead that now lives in the hearts of believers everywhere. That’s what unites.

Paul is saying here that if we are living in unity, with these characteristics, then it will show that we are maintaining the unity of the Spirit. We cannot create the unity—the Holy Spirit does that by baptizing us into one body—but (like with faith and works) showing forth humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love towards one another is evidence that we are united. Can you mess things up and cause disunity? Of course you can. But you can never break this bond of peace that exists between the members of the church of God. You see, this verse is followed by a series of “oneness” truths that will always remain the same: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father (vv. 4-6). So Paul is also saying here that the very unity of the church of God is as indestructible as God Himself. “And on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

If you’re someone who’s always stirring up disunity, then you might need a spiritual wake up call because it may be you who doesn’t really belong to the church as a believer in Christ in the first place. “I believe there are too many practitioners in the church who are not believers.”- C. S. Lewis

Oneness

So we’ve spent most of our time looking at how unified living is worth it, and also how we are to walk worthy and we’ve looked at how unity is evidenced through humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. Now Paul points us to the oneness of the Christian faith: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (vv. 4-6).

Does Paul say here, “Pursue unity even if it compromises the doctrines of Scripture!”? No he doesn’t. Paul has mentioned this seven-fold oneness passage to demonstrate that unity is not throwing doctrines away. Some people say, “Why can’t we just love Jesus and love each other and just get rid of doctrine.” After all, isn’t doctrine what theologians argue over and split hairs over? I’ve got some stark news for you. If you don’t affirm that there is “one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father,” then you haven’t been a part of the Christian body to begin with. You cannot fulfill the Great Commission or be a faithful growing Christian without doctrine. It is doctrine and theology that is meant to lead us toward maturity, growth and action. Let me give you one final reason to study doctrine and theology from the Bible: It’s not enough to have ideas about God and the church. Everyone has ideas about God—it’s unavoidable. But the problem is, you may have a lot of wrong ones.

So Paul is affirming these truths as a great motivation for living in unity. Because unity is not just between believers but it is between the truths that we draw from the Scriptures that we must agree on. If the entirety of the Christian faith is dependent on these great truths of “oneness,” then why can’t Christians get along and live in oneness with each other? It would make it look like we didn’t believe that we have oneness in the fundamentals of our faith.

One Body

Paul of course mentions the “body and the Spirit” first if you notice because he is talking primarily about unity in the body and that unity, as we have seen, is established by the Spirit.

There are many denominations today, but there is only one body of believers. Two ways to describe the body of Christ is 1) locally 2) universally—it’s the same body, just two ways of describing it. When we are saved, we are obligated to worship with a local congregation (Heb. 10:25), the Word of God knows nothing of a lone-ranger Christian. People say, “Well I don’t believe in organized religion, but I believe the Bible and let’s meet and study at my house at 7 and John’s bringing the donuts.” Hello!? That’s organized religion. And the local congregation is to be a representation of the worldwide congregation of God all throughout this earth consisting of those of different tribes and tongues.

One Spirit

I’m glad that there’s only one Holy Spirit. We don’t get different “Spirits” when we are saved, He the Holy Spirit lives in us.

One Hope

There’s only one hope—the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without affirming this as your only hope, you have no hope.

One Lord

There is only one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t have many “lords” in the church today. The Greek word for “Lord” here means the one in supreme authority. Could you imagine how hectic church life would be if we had to worry about pleasing people all the time? Often times the reason it is hectic is because we are trying to please people and ourselves. Every decision we make should be influenced by our desire to please our Savior in church life.

One Faith

This one here is an important one. This refers back to what I said earlier about doctrine and theological oneness. There are different meanings in the Greek for the same English word. So then, there are different meanings to the word “faith” in the New Testament. Here it doesn’t mean “daily trust in God,” it doesn’t mean “saving faith,” it doesn’t even mean “dead faith” (as James speaks of). But it means “the whole collection of Christian teachings—everything that Christianity stands for or against.” And there is only one faith. We believe that the Word is inspired, that God is all-knowing, all-present, and all powerful . . . we believe that Christ died for sin and rose again . . . we believe that the Holy Spirit applies our salvation. If there’s one faith only, why can’t there be oneness in the body?

One Baptism

There’s only one baptism, both into the church and as Baptists affirm, only one correct mode of baptism—by immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit upon receiving Christ as your Savior. If there’s one baptism only, why can’t there be oneness in the body?

One Father

We serve one God. He is sovereign over all things, and His universal rule of this world is exercised in many things—especially us as believers in His body. If God Himself is one, why can’t the church be one especially if God is sovereign over us, with us through all and in all that we do?

We Must Live in Oneness

We have seen today that striving to attain unity is very costly, but it is worth it. We have seen that we are to live in a way that demonstrates that we are walking worthy of our calling. We have seen how we are to walk worthy and attain unity of the Spirit: living in humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love towards each other. We have seen that unity is also about the oneness of our beliefs—and that they are the only valid beliefs. If you are convinced that you aren’t living in unity, allow God to have full control of you so that you can live in unity and display to the world the wondrous reconciling power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be living out unity in oneness.


1. John MacArthur, Bearing One Another’s Burdens (From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine).

 

Advertisements

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Mourn

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Mourn (Matt. 5:4)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 27th day of July, 2014:

Introduction

People cry. Babies cry because they might be hungry, sleepy, teething, or they might have a gift for you in their diapers. Children sometimes cry because they didn’t get that Barbie toy they wanted, or possibly because they hate doing homework. Teens cry (trust me, I know) because of the stress of becoming an adult, the pressures of high school, and worst of all: acne. From childhood to adulthood, people cry for different reasons, it could be tears of sorrow or tears of joy. Sometimes experiencing sorrow is referred to as mourning. That’s where the second Beatitude comes in.

The Text

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).

The Meaning of Mourning

Certain kinds of sorrow are common to all mankind, experienced by believer and unbeliever alike: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). Some sorrows are appropriate and legitimate and God knows our need. Others are illegitimate and brought about because of sinful passions and objectives. We need to discover what the Bible says about proper mourning so that we can find out what Jesus means by saying “Blessed are those who mourn.” The word mourn has different definitions attached to it. In order to determine what proper mourning is, it is helpful to define what proper mourning is not. 

Improper Mourning

The kind of mourning that is illegitimate is the sorrow of those who are frustrated in fulfilling evil plans and lusts, or those who have misguided loyalties, desires, and affections.

David’s son Amnon is a good example of improper mourning: “And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her” (2 Sam. 13:2). Amnon thought that his sister was “beautiful” (2 Sam. 13:1) and wanted to have incestuous sex with her. It frustrated him to the point where he made himself ill the text says. He had grief because he couldn’t fulfill his lusts.

None of us will probably ever try to commit sin like Amnon here, but we are sometimes like him when we try to pursue sin. He wanted to commit sin, but he knew that as the son of David it would be a dishonor (and that the Bible commanded against it), and sex with his sister was therefore something he was restricted from doing. Sometimes we think that God has put restriction on certain sins to kill our joy and make us obedient soldiers with no choice. But the commands and exhortations in Scripture are for our own good! The psalmist writes, “I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!” (Psalm 119:19). We are all travelers in this earth and we absolutely need the Word of God to point out places where we shouldn’t go and to show us where the path to true righteousness is.

For the moment of temptation, the sin may look very attractive. To Eve, the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (which God commanded against) was “good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). It was very attractive to her. But with sin, the grass is never greener on the other side. Sin is very deceptive (in fact, one of sin’s delusions is that it keeps us unaware of sin!), and we must always rely on the wisdom and power of God to fight against it.

If you are experiencing that kind of sorrow, if truths like “Being a believer is not a license to sin” turns you off, then you are having improper mourning. 

Proper Mourning

The mourning about which Jesus is talking in the second Beatitude, is very much unlike mourning because you are “restricted” from sinning. And while God cares about all legitimate mourning, Jesus is speaking here about godly sorrow, godly mourning, mourning that only those who sincerely desire to belong to Him or who already belong to Him can experience.

Paul speaks of this sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you” (vv. 10-11). Paul says here that godly sorrow actually leads to repentance. If you are sorry for your sin, then you will repent and turn away from it. But repentance is not just a turning away from sin; it is a turning to as well. . . a turning to God. That’s why Paul says that it “leads to salvation without regret” (v. 10). But sorrow because you “couldn’t” sin is the “worldly grief [that leads to] produces death.”

Now the first Beatitude, makes it clear that entrance into the “kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3) begins with being “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), that is, you recognize your total spiritual bankruptcy and come to Christ empty-handed, pleading for God’s grace and mercy. Without that recognition of spiritual poverty, you cannot be saved. So if we are “poor in spirit,” then it follows that we would also become “those who mourn.”

It’s important to note, however, that blessedness or happiness does not come in the mourning itself (“Blessed are those who mourn. . .”). But that blessedness comes with what God does in response to it, with the forgiveness that He brings. When you finally recognize your sin and mourn over it and get it confessed to God, you can identify with David in Psalm 32, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (vv. 1-2). But why does David say that those people are blessed? How did they become blessed? He answers that question in vv. 3-5, “For when I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long [he experienced sorrow]. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” God forgives those who confess their sins to Him (1 John 1:9) and brings eternal comfort to them, and that’s where the blessedness of godly mourning comes from.

The troubles and sins of the world are just too heavy to continue carrying. “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile.” But Jesus isn’t telling us to do that. He’s not telling us to fake it. He says, “Confess your sins, and mourn, mourn, mourn.” Because until sin is confessed, forgiven and removed, you cannot experience true happiness.

There is an interesting passage of Scripture about this reality. It’s found in James 4, and it is strange because the same passage that talks about forsaking sins and crying for them is the same passage that talks about being joyful and exalted. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10). James says here that there is a great need in the church to cry instead of laugh. He doesn’t mean that Christians are to be sobbing depressive Eeyores (off Winnie the Pooh). But apparently these believers were treating sin very casually when the proper reaction to sin is “mourning. . . weep[ing]. . and gloom” (v. 9).

The Result of Mourning

So if indeed we are experiencing true godly sorrow, then what is the result? Jesus tells us: “they shall be comforted.” Again, it is not the mourning that blesses or makes one happy, but the comfort that God gives to those who mourn in a godly way. Jesus says that they shall be comforted. This does not refer only to the end of our lives or when we spend eternity with God. Like all other blessings, it will be ultimately fulfilled when we see our Lord face-to-face, and when God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). But the comfort Jesus refers to in Matthew 5:4 is also very present. This comfort comes after the mourning. As we continually mourn over our sin, we shall be continually comforted by God Himself, “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (2 Thess. 2:16).

How to Mourn (Godly)

If we are to mourn godly, and those who mourn godly “shall be comforted,” then what does true mourning over sin involve? How can we become godly mourners?

1. Eliminate Hindrances. The first step in becoming a godly mourner is removing the hindrances that may keep us from mourning over sin. What are some of these hindrances that need trashing?

Love of sin. This is without question, the primary hindrance to mourning over sin. If you love sin, you certainly will not be sorry because of it. Holding onto sin is like standing in the Arctic cold snow. Standing in the below zero winds, being beat in the face by ice pellets, all the while standing still and doing nothing. Just taking it. The longer you do nothing about it, you will freeze and die. The same applies to sin. The longer you let sin have it’s way, the greater the consequences; eventually the more you do something, the more you get used to it. Don’t let that happen with sin in your life. Let it go and confess it to God and ask Him to help you love Him more and love the things of God more.

Despair. This also hinders mourning because despair is giving up on God. You think that because you have sinned so much that God will not forgive you. You think that you are too far from grace. Stop letting Satan whisper in your ear. God will not turn anyone away who comes to Him in repentance and faith. God wants to forgive you and cleanse you. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Conceit. This hinders mourning over sin, because it keeps it hidden. You choose to believe that there is nothing over which to mourn. You try to hide your sin from God, but He sees (Psalm 10:11). But that is like treating a cold the same way you would cancer. Don’t hide your sin from God or even yourself.

Presumption. This hinders mourning over sin because it is really a form of pride. You think that there is a need for grace, but not much grace. You think that sins are bad, they need to be repented of, but that they aren’t really that serious. You presume that you can continue sinning because God will forgive you. Be careful with that type of thinking, because God says “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).

Procrastination. This also hinders godly mourning simply by putting it off. You say, “One of these days, when things are just right, I’ll take a hard look at my sins, confess them, and ask God’s forgiveness and cleansing.” But that thinking is dangerous. Why would we ever consider putting off God’s forgiveness and mercy when we can experience it right now? The sooner your sin is dealt with, the sooner you “shall be comforted.”

2. Study God’s Word. I believe this too, is an important step in becoming a godly mourner. How will you know what is detestable to God, and what a damning thing sin is? By opening the Word of God. Paul writes that because of the commandment in the Word of God, sin was shown to be what it really was: “in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (Rom. 7:13). God’s Word sheds light on our sin and through the Bible, the Holy Spirit makes us more and more aware of our sin.

3. Pray. A very simple step to mourning godly is by spending time in prayer. Sometimes we just need to shut everything off, open our Bibles, and spend some time pouring our hearts out to God. We have so many distractions today and we need to get away from those things and pray, really pray. If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy.

How to Know if We Are Mourning as Christ Commands

Knowing whether or not we have godly mourning is not difficult to determine. First, we need to ask ourselves if we are sensitive to sin. If you take sin lightly, if when you are tempted, you think more of the consequences if you did sin, than God’s provided way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), then you need to be more sensitive to sin. Second, you will have true sorrow over your sins. You have a realization that “Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Third, we will grieve for the sins of fellow believers and for the sins of the world. We will not judge them and think that we are better than they are, but experience a genuine sorrow for their sin like the psalmist, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (Psalm 119:136). Finally, we will check our sense of God’s forgiveness. Have we experienced the release and freedom and joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven? Do we have divine comfort that God promises to those who have been forgiven, cleansed and purified?

God brings eternal comfort to the one who mourns over sin and repents. 

Ephesians: He Himself is Our Peace (2:14-18)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 24th day of November 2013:

The Design of the Death of Christ

If you care about the Son of God, if you care about the blood of Christ, if you care about the death of the greatest person who ever was, you have to care about the design of the death. (1) That’s where Ephesians 2:14-18 comes in. These verses form the centerpiece of this entire section (2:11-22) because they explain how the Gentile readers’ coming near to God was made possible through Christ’s death. The Gentiles, who were completely separated from Israel and her God (2:11-12) have now been brought near to Him (2:13). God’s Word to us tonight explains how.

The Text

“14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

He Himself Is Our Peace

“For he himself is our peace. . .” (v. 14a). This is an important, but strange affirmation about Jesus. If you’re like me, you’re used to seeing Jesus as making peace (“We have peace with God. . . through Jesus” Romans 5:1.) or as proclaiming and commanding peace (“Blessed are the peacemakers. .” Matt. 5:9). But here Paul says, “He himself is our peace.” The reason Paul says this is because Jesus is the central figure in establishing peace (as you will see in this passage) between both Jew and Gentile. Christ is the central figure who effects reconciliation and removes hostility in its various forms. If you notice in 2:14-18, every time Jesus in named, He is followed by the word or phrase peace. 1) v. 14 “He himself is our peace.” 2) He established peace (v. 15) 3) He came and preached peace (v. 17). And once you take a good long look at Christ’s reconciling work through the cross, you will have no wonder why Paul states, “He himself is our peace.”

Made Us Both One

“. . who has made us both one” (v. 14b). This refers to the resulting unity of Jewish and Gentile believers. Christ has made both Jew and Gentile one. You may say, “Okay. Great.” But do you understand what a great accomplishment this was? The Jews hated the Gentiles. A. T. Lincoln rightly says, “In accomplishing this, Christ has transcended one of the fundamental divisions of the first-century world” (2). And that’s what makes this verse so amazing. He has made both one. They have been brought into a mutual relationship and a unity which surpasses what they once were (vv. 15, 16, 18).

How did Christ make the two one? “[He has] broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” (v. 14c-15a). This is a rather strange metaphor from the apostle Paul, mainly because no such parallel exists in the entire New Testament. But by simply stating this, Paul indicates that there was a real dividing wall that existed between the Jews and Gentiles. There was an inscription on the wall of the outer courtyard of the Jerusalem temple warning Gentiles that they would only have themselves to blame for their death if they passed beyond it into the inner courts. This was segregation for them. If you grew up during that time, then you can best grasp what life was like for Jews and Gentiles. Though this serves as a great picture of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, this isn’t what Paul is referring to here. The “dividing wall of hostility” was, in fact, the Mosaic law itself with its detailed holiness code. It separated Jews from Gentiles both religiously and sociologically, and caused deep-seated hostility. “The enmity which was caused by the Jews’ separateness was often accompanied by a sense of superiority on their part,” says Peter O’Brien (3). Paul isn’t ‘downing’ the Law here. Why would he count the Law as worthless when he says, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” over in Romans 7? Paul is saying here that what has been abolished is the ‘law-covenant,’ that is, the law as a whole conceived as a covenant. In addition, Christ said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). It is not the Law as revealing the will and character of God that Christ has abolished, it is the ‘law-covenant.’ It is then replaced by a new covenant for Jews and Gentiles.

Barriers

If the Law in some way was the dividing wall in the ancient world, for us it is racial difference. The hostility between races, especially between blacks and whites, in virtually all countries continues as an embarrassment. Did Christ’s death abolish all the barriers? The barrier between Jew and Gentile was one of the most obvious in history. If this barrier has been “broken down,” what other barrier can be justified? If God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11), if all are created in His image, if God’s purpose is unity, if we are to love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44), if Christ took the hostility into Himself to destroy it, on what grounds can we justify keeping any barriers in place? If this hostility was so deep, large, and wide that God desired it be broken down through the crucifixion of the most important person who ever was, then who do we think we are to hold prejudices and hostility against a brother or sister in Christ? “He has made us both one!”

If you belong to the family of God, “He has made us both one!” You will have differences with one another. But our differences shouldn’t create hostility because the cross is at ground level. No one has higher value than someone else in the church of God. If you are male and she’s female, if you’re rich and he’s poor, if you’re black and she’s white, if you’re Calvinist and he’s Arminian, if you wear Blue Jeans and he wears a suit, if you’re older and she’s younger, if you like Contemporary and he likes Bluegrass, if you’re country as cornbread and she’s a city-girl, and if any of those things create hostility between you, remember this: None of our barriers, none of our ways of devaluing, limiting, and taking advantage of others, has any basis. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Abolishing the Law

The purpose of Christ’s removing this hostility was twofold: (1) to create in Himself one new man in place of the two (v. 15b), and (2) in this one body to reconcile both of them to God (v. 16a). If Christ has broken down, crushed, and shattered the “dividing wall of hostility,” then how did He do it? The first part of verse 15 tells us. Christ brought them together in a sovereign act that was nothing less than a new creation. Paul has already spoken of God’s salvation in terms of a new creation (2:10). Believers are his workmanship who have already been created in Christ Jesus for good works, and these are part of God’s intention for that new creation. If God had in mind to create a new humanity, His church, it could not take place by transforming a Gentile into a Jew and it could not take place by transforming a Jew into a Gentile, the only way it could take place was by transforming sinners into new persons through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Reconciliation between Jew and Gentile takes place through the death of Christ by the one similarity that they actually shared: they were sinners in need of salvation.

Reconcile Us Both to God

If Christ has removed the hostility between Jew and Gentile and has reconciled the two into one body, then it follows that we must both be “reconciled to God.” Do you hear the vivid language in verse 16? “And might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” What an oxymoron! While “creating in himself one new man” (v. 15), Christ also kills the hostility. Christ has abolished the law as a divisive instrument separating humanity from God and Jews from Gentiles. He has created a single new humanity that transcends the former deep divisions and made peace between them. He has reconciled both Jew and Gentile in this one body to God, killing the hostility. This does not mean, however, that the whole human race has been united and reconciled.

Is God Distant?

Sometimes, as believers, we can think of God as distant or unapproachable. This lack of a sense of the nearness to God lies at the root of much of human failure. But the Bible tells us here that we have been “reconciled to God.” In Christ, we have been brought to God, and the barriers blocking access to Him, such as sin, hostility, and the weakness of the flesh have been removed. But when we feel distant from God, it isn’t He who has moved. It is us. God asks Israel in Jeremiah 8:4-5, “When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?” Backsliding starts in such a subtle way that most of us are not aware of it, and many of us may be backslidden and may not realize it. And while we need to fall on our face in repentance and return to God, we are no longer separated from God. J.D. Greear captures this truth by means of prayer, “In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.” (4)

Christ the Preacher

Having dwelt at length on Christ’s work of reconciliation, Paul now turns to his proclamation of peace to both Gentile and Jew. “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (v. 17). The One who is ‘our peace’ and who made peace through His cross now announces that peace to those who were far off and those who were near. Christ Himself is the evangelist, the herald of good tidings from Isaiah, and His announcement, which is based on His death on the cross, is a royal proclamation that hostilities are at an end. You see, the Jews were near to God because they already knew of Him through the Scriptures and worshiped Him in their religious ceremonies (the outward expression of the Law). The Gentiles were “far off” because they knew little or nothing about God. Because neither group could ever be saved by good works or sincerity, both needed to hear about salvation available through Jesus. Both Jews and Gentiles are now free to come to God through Christ (v. 18).

Commanded and Commissioned

If preaching peace to all was good enough for the Man who died on the cross, then it ought to bee good enough for us. And while Christ is our example in everything, what’s more is we have been commanded and commissioned by Christ Himself to take this message of peace to our communities, our nation, and to the nations (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15). Did you know that are 2,925 unreached people groups and 6,578 people groups where evangelical Christians make up 2% of the population? (5) We must “Go and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). You see, you may know a great deal about God and the teachings of Scripture, but do not forget that you were once without Christ and in need of a Savior, just like everyone else on the face of this planet. Do not forget your plight before Jesus stepped in (Eph. 2:11).

Access in One Spirit to the Father

To draw near to God and to enjoy Him forever in a new creation is both mankind’s greatest good and the ultimate accomplishment of Christ’s earthly work of redemption. “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (v. 18). What an appropriate conclusion to this section of Scripture! Through Him, we of different races, different interest, different social status, different economical status, different looks, have access in one Spirit to the Father. Paul’s focus here is on their (Jew and Gentile) continuing relationship with the Father which is the result of Christ’s act of reconciliation. This is important because if Christ has in fact “created in himself one new man (v. 15), then this verse tells us how this new creation will continue to grow. The Holy Spirit will continue to apply the work of redemption to people’s lives and the Holy Spirit will continue to give new spiritual life to the undeserving. And it is the Holy Spirit who will empower us to carry this message of peace to the lost, to the dying, and to those in need of salvation.

Through this reconciliation work of Christ on the cross, we have access to the Father in a relationship with Him. It isn’t the Law that is the expression of our covenant with the Father, the sacrificial death of Jesus is the expression of our covenant with the Father. Indeed, He Himself is our peace.