Growing up is what God expects us to do. He commands us to “follow the Truth” – that is, Christ; but He expects us to follow the truth, “in a spirit of charity” – not lording over others in a spirit of one-upmanship. We are called to a “due proportion” with Christ in everything. He is our Head; we are only members of His Body. Who then are we to say to others, “I am better or more needed than you.”? Or, “You are of no value?”
We are to follow the truth, in a spirit of charity, and so grow up, in everything, into a due proportion with Christ, who is our head.
Growing up is what’s expected of us.
On [Christ] all the body depends; it is organized and unified by each contact with the source which supplies it; and thus, each limb receiving the active power it needs, it achieves its natural growth, building itself up through charity. (Ephesians 4:16)
Puzzling, yes? The Word of God teaches us two things which appear to be opposed. We are taught that God can not be scorned; that if we continue in sin, we pay the ultimate price – we die eternally, in corruption.
Roman Catholics get around this puzzle by teaching that some sin is minor – deemed venial or ‘easily forgiven’ – and does not lead to corruption while other sin is major – deemed mortal or ‘deadly’ – and will lead to eternal death, i.e. to damnation of the soul.
The bulk of the New Testament seems to teach, on the other hand, that sin is sin – that all sin leads to corruption. The problem then for mankind is what to do about sin. In Romans 7, Paul speaks of his woe – that the good he wants to do he can not do. He asks who will rescue him from his body of sin and death and then praises God that it is Christ who secures that rescue.
Yet, here in his letter to the church at Galatia, Paul warns that sin somehow hasn’t been nailed to the cross with Jesus.
“Do not ye err, God is not scorned; for those things that a man soweth, those things he shall reap [for why what things a man soweth, also these things he shall reap]. For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh he shall reap corruption; but he that soweth in the Spirit, of the Spirit he shall reap everlasting life.”
Then there are those who claim that Christians – if they are true Christians – never sin. I presume this belief is to reconcile themselves to the many scriptural passages that imply that if a Christian commits a sin, then God can not be in his or her body. After all, a Christian is the temple of God the Holy Spirit. How can a holy God dwell inside an unholy thing?
Yet, Paul speaks of the deeds done in the body that are unworthy of God burning off as the Christian passes from life into death and from there into eternal life – the mortal being swallowed up by the immortal, so to speak. In these passages, Paul implies that Christians do indeed sin. We makes mistakes, yet we are saved though as through fire.
Sometimes, I imagine Paul himself struggling to fully understand the good news. The good news that we are saved while we are still sinners, that God loves us so much that He considers us His friends while we are still His mortal enemies.
Why would God die for us while we are dead in sin, and then turn away from us because we fail? I can’t imagine. I don’t think Paul was able to imagine that, either. Instead, he reminds us that God’s love for us is higher and deeper and wider than anything we have ever known; that Jesus Christ does for us more than we will ever understand while we remain on this earth.
As many parents know, provoking a child is not a good idea. Children are notoriously incapable of handling parents’ emotional outbursts in that children barely handle their own emotions. A screaming parent is likely to trigger a scream in return. Paul, who is not a father, writes:
“And, [ye] fathers, do not ye provoke your sons to wrath; but nourish ye them in the teaching and chastising of the Lord.”
Recall how the Lord Jesus teaches in the synagogue at twelve — He teaches with authority. Recall how the Lord chastises the woman at the well — He chastises with gentleness and even good humor.
Jesus nourishes; and gains obedience and loyalty through love.
Jesus does not promise we are not going to be ambushed by our adversary, who prowls about like a lion actively searching for one to devour. Instead, Jesus offers us “the might of His virtue” and “the armour of God” so we might “stand against the ambushings of the devil.” Paul puts it like this:
“Here afterward, brethren, be ye comforted in the Lord, and in the might of his virtue. Clothe you with the armour of God, that ye be able to stand against the ambushings [the ambushings, or assailings,] of the devil.”
Paul strongly advises:
“13Therefore take ye the armour of God, that ye be able to against-stand in the evil day; and in all things stand perfect.
14 Therefore stand ye, and be girded about your loins in soothfastness [Therefore stand ye, girded about your loins in soothfastness], and clothed with the habergeon of rightwiseness,
15 and your feet shod in making ready of the gospel of peace.
16 In all things take ye the shield of faith, in which ye be able to quench all the fiery darts of him that is most wicked.
17 And take ye the helmet of health, and the sword of the Ghost, that is, the word of God.
18 By all prayer and beseeching pray ye all time in Spirit, and in him waking in all busyness, and beseeching for all holy men, [By all prayer and beseeching praying all time in Spirit, and in him waking in all busyness, and beseeching for all saints,]”
Paul says to “stand perfect” “in all things.” Jesus says, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” How do you stand perfect? You stand perfect “in the might of His virtue” through faith, truth, righteousness, wisdom, the gospel of peace, the Word of God, prayer, and God’s own Holy Spirit indwelling.
Can you imagine “unity in the faith?” Can you imagine “becoming mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?” Can you imagine not being an “infant?”
Our hope is to become united in our knowledge of Jesus Christ — i.e. no longer divided or “tossed back and forth…by every wind of teaching.”
“Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14) The good we seek is this unity in Christ; the evil we dread and should always flee is division, bickering, backbiting, unfounded criticism, and hatred of our brothers and sisters who are in Christ.
“You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before Me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So, then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:10-13)
Our fervent prayer is to be mature in Christ, to stand together as one church — as the whole body of Christ, and as His bride.
We come to the “fullness of being, the fullness of God Himself” “through faith,” through “deep roots and firm foundations.” Paul prays for us, that we come to know — “though it is beyond knowledge” — the love of Christ. Paul prays that we know “what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of this love.
We come to know the immensity of Christ’s love through the “strength and power” of the Holy Spirit “in [our] inner being.” (Ephesians 3: 16)
How great is the love of God for us in Christ Jesus? “In union with Christ Jesus [God] raises us up and enthrones us with Him in the heavenly realms, so that He might display in the ages to come how immense are the resources of His grace, and how great His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2: 6 – 8)
Paul prays “our inward eyes may be illumined, so that [we] may know what is the hope to which He calls [us], what the wealth and glory of the share He offers [us] among His people in their heritage, and how vast the resources of His power open to us who trust in Him.” (Ephesians 1: 18 – 19)
We have God’s resources: the strength and power of His Holy Spirit and the grace and love of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Paul says that our redemption is “in Him – the Beloved.” Our salvation is not in ourselves or in another. Rather, we are redeemed “through His blood.” We are not redeemed through the blood of bulls, goats, lambs. Rather, Christ’s blood pays our debts. We are forgiven our sins [trespasses, debts] “according to the riches of His grace.” His grace saves us.
Christ “is the mediator of a new covenant, so that [we] who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death occurs that redeems [us] from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9: 15) Christ “appears once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Hebrews 9: 26)
Paul explains that we are “predestined…for adoption as sons.” (Ephesians 1: 5) Our adoption is possible because of “His glorious grace” (Ephesians 1: 6) and “according to the purpose of His will.” (Ephesians 1: 5) We are not adopted by our will, but by His will.
God “works all things according to the counsel of His will,” reminds Paul. (Ephesians 1: 11) God is the one who is at work in us. He seals us with “the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” (Ephesians 1: 13 – 14)
Therefore, since God is at work in us, we should praise Him. We should give Him all the glory which is due Him for He sends His Son who willingly dies to make our adoption possible. Hallelujah!
Paul tells us to “be strengthened by the Lord.” Our strength is not our own, but comes from “His vast strength.” We are to “put on the full armor of God” in order to withstand “the tactics of the Devil.”
This armor is to be taken up, carried; and consists of: truth, righteousness, readiness for the gospel, faith, salvation, the Word of God — and is sustained through prayer in God the Holy Spirit.
God sustains us; He strengthens us and enables us to stand. Through Him, we persevere.
The Christian walk is akin to a marriage, says Paul. We are Christ’s bride, and He is our husband. As husband, Christ loves His wife, the church, the body of believers. He keeps His bride safe. He enables her to stand victorious. If she falls, He picks her up in His mighty arms and washes her face; He cleans her, and sets her on her feet once again. If she should fall again, again He rights her. He has a love for her that no one fully comprehends. After all, He died for her. Why should He leave her? Never! She belongs to Him, for He paid an enormous price to call her His own. She is His, and His alone.
“Chris loves the church and gives Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the Word. He does this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5: 25 – 27)
“Desire pure spiritual milk,” commands Peter. After all, says Peter, “you taste that the Lord is good.” Now that you taste the goodness of God, why do you continue in “all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander”? (1 Peter 2: 1) “Rid yourselves” of these weights. Be, instead, “like newborn infants,” desiring more of the goodness of the Lord God who is your salvation.
Grow up into Christ, who is your head. “He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything.” (Colossians 1: 17 – 18)
Put and keep Christ first in your life. “Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3: 12) Remember that “once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.” (Colossians 1: 21 – 22)
“Take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.” (Ephesians 4: 22 – 24)
We are commanded to “bear with one another in love.” We are to be “humble and gentle, with patience” in our dealings with one another. Paul implies here that sometimes other Christians may be irritating, divisive, argumentative, critical.
Paul wants us to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4: 3) Again, he implies here that sometimes we do not have unity in the body of Christ as we ought.
Of course, this should be painfully obvious to us today. We have a myriad of denominations in the greater Church, each with some crucial (or worse) miniscule difference from another. The Roman Catholic church maintains that the greatest sin is this division in the Body of Christ, the true Church. This is hard to argue against. I know Paul agrees.
“There is one body and one Spirit — just as you are 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 in all.” (Ephesians 4: 4 – 6)
The aim, the upward call of God is that “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4: 13)