Editor’s note: This series of posts provides seven principles related to killing sin and conforming to Christ in the context of your local church as revealed in Ephesians 4 and 5.
Read the first two post in this series:
- The Church as the Context for Growth and Change – Part 1
- The Church as the Context for Growth and Change — Part 2
- The Model for Change (Eph 5:1-2)
The only perfect model of human holiness is Christ, because he alone was without sin. (Heb 4:15) So if you are to change, to grow in holiness — you must imitate God as revealed through Christ (Eph 5:1-2).
To earn some gas money in high school, I started mowing yards. Upon acquiring a new customer who had a plush green yard, I was instructed to mow in straight lines so that his yard would look like a well manicured baseball field. At first this left me a little unnerved, but I remembered a story my brother had told at his high school graduation. He said if your goal was to go from point A to point B, you fix your eyes on point B and go straight at it. Not knowing what else to do, I applied his advice to my mowing. There was a mailbox across the yard, so I fixed my eyes on the center brick and with fear and trembling pushed the mower intently toward it. When I arrived at the opposite side of the yard, I was astonished to see that I had mowed a straight line! If our paths in life are to be made straight, then we must lean not on our own understanding, but rather fix our eyes upon Christ — “the founder and perfecter of our Faith” (Prov 3:5-6; Heb 12:2).
1 Peter 2:21 says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” Are you looking daily to Christ and seeking to follow in his steps? While the calling to follow Christ is individual and personal, it is also a collective calling given to the church.
- The Members of Change (Eph 4)
The church is the primary context in which God intends for us to grow in Christlikeness. This is made evident as the verbs concerning change in Ephesians 4-5 are in the second person plural. So when Paul writes “Look carefully then how YOU walk,” the Texas Stand Version of the Bible might read, “Look carefully then how YA’LL walk” — with “Ya’ll” being the church.
In contrast to the commonly practiced self-sanctification spirituality of our culture, sanctification in the Bible is a community process. To that end, the early church father Augustine wrote: “He cannot have God for his Father who will not have the Church for his mother.”
So what makes the church such a vital part of the putting-off and putting-on process?
- The local church provides biblical encouragement (1 Thes 5:11, 14; Prov 18:1).
A good one word summary for Paul’s purpose in writing Ephesians is this: Encouragement. He seeks to encourage the church at Ephesus in both their identity in Christ (Eph 1-3) and in living out the gospel — as a church (Eph 4-6).
- The local church provides accountability for change (Gal 6:1; Heb 13:17).
Let’s face it, we are all prone like sheep to go astray and live in our own way. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.”
Joshua Harris wrote years ago in Not Even a Hint that a lone ranger is a dead ranger. In a later book, Harris quotes John Piper who wrote: “Sanctification is a community project.”¹ When we isolate ourselves from God’s people, we become like a log that rolls away from the blazing campfire and eventually smolders out. Our love for Christ grows cold. We can become deceived into thinking that purpose and true happiness are found in the trinkets of this fallen world. Thus Hebrews 3:13 says, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
- The local church provides the environment necessary for continued growth (Heb 10:24-25).
Wayne Mack summarized it well: “Attempting to grow in Christ outside of the church is like trying to learn to swim without ever getting into the pool.”² May it be that each of us, as a part of Christ’s church, take to heart Hebrews 10:24-25:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
In stating that “our hearts are perpetual idol factories,” John Calvin wrote this in his Institutes concerning the church:
Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives…. God’s fatherly favor and the especial witness of spiritual life are limited to his flock, so that it is always disastrous to leave the church.
As “the Day” of Christ’s return draws near, let us counsel and encourage one another to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1b-2a).
¹. Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with the Family of God, (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2004), 50
². Wayne Mack and Dave Swavely, Life in the Father’s House, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 29.
Bryan Gaines is Pastor of Family Discipleship at Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, Texas. He regularly teaches classes to encourage and equip parents, works in the Student Ministry, leads an adult Care Group, and oversees Grace Preschool. Bryan also leads Grace Biblical Counseling, LLC. He is certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC).
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