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. The following is the first post in the series.
Some grow anxious over the very thought of change as it threatens their sense of comfort and control. Others literally live for change, as exemplified by those long lines in front of the Apple store with each release of the newest iPhone.
So is change a good thing or a bad thing? As it concerns the state of your soul, it depends. Is your desire for personal change driven by a desire for that which seeks conformity to the world or conformity unto Christ? Concerning the natural tendency to be conformed to this world, Brian Hedges recounts the story of Cory Byrne who had his nine-foot long boa constrictor draped over his shoulders:
To the horror of a watching friend, the reptile’s large, lumbering coils began to tighten around its owner like a noose. Slowly, irresistibly, the great snake squeezed Cory’s life away. His air supply was cut off. His face turned red and he passed out. Unable to remove the snake by herself, Cory’s friend called for emergency help. But several hours later Cory died in a local hospital.
Hedges uses this story to illustrate the nature of sin. While sin may be given a cute name and perceived to be basically harmless, it’s true nature invites you to coddle it — that it may kill you! With this reality in mind, the puritan John Owen rightly concluded, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Does this sound extreme? Colossians 3:5 says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” If you are to be conformed to the image of Christ, you must continuously confront and kill indwelling sin.
Stop for a moment and answer this question: What is your “pet” sin? What sinful thoughts, words, or activities do you tend to coddle like a snake all the while deceiving yourself that it is basically harmless? Perhaps it is one of the “respectable sins” mentioned by Jerry Bridges such as anxiety, frustration, discontentment, unthankfulness, pride, anger, envy, sins of the tongue, or worldliness? If you have a hard time pinpointing a personal pet sin(s), why not ask your spouse or a friend — whom God has placed in your life to further your sanctification! (Col 1:28, 3:16)
Agree or disagree: Sanctification is the process in which we become increasingly like Christ, and God prescribes that this process of change takes place primarily in the local church. Ephesians 4:15 says believers are to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” This growth or change is not optional, but is to be operational as you live out your life in communion with God’s people.
We see this very clearly in Ephesians 4, which is often referred to as “the change chapter.” Starting in Ephesians 4 and continuing into Ephesians 5, here are SEVEN principles related to killing sin and conforming to Christ in the context of your local church.
- The Mandate to Change (Eph 4:17)
The command in Ephesians 4:17 is that “… you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do.” In other words, you must change! The word “walk” is used seven times in Ephesians and refers to one’s conduct or lifestyle, which “must no longer” look like the world. Rather, every aspect of the Christian life is to be progressively conformed to Christ-likeness as mandated in Ephesians 4:1: “… walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
Because none of us live for and love God and others as we ought, the gospel-driven imperatives in Ephesians 4-6 declare this: You must CHANGE!
Why change? In starting off Ephesians, Paul emphasizes that God saves wayward sinners “to the praise of His glory.” (Eph 1:6, 12, 14) So if God saves us for his glory, what should be our response? 1 Corinthians 10:31 says “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” To “do all to the glorify God” means that your life is to be like a mirror that reflects the goodness of God through every aspect of life.
As you consider your “pet” sin, or as you help someone else who is struggling with sin or suffering, here is a question to ask: In what ways do your attitude and actions glorify God? (1 Cor 10:31)
If you possess a sincere desire to embrace God’s mandate to change, it is because God has fundamentally changed you. That leads us to the second principle implied from Eph 4:17-20.
- The Motive to Change (Eph 4:17-20)
When Paul writes in Ephesians 4:17 that “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do,” he is reminding them again of who they once were. Earlier in Ephesians 2:1-3, he wrote, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, … and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
So where is the motive to change? It’s found in 2 powerful words … “BUT GOD!” While we were spiritually dead, Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved.” Such undeserved kindness and mercy is both our motive and enabling for change.
In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Paul summarizes the believer’s motive for change:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
God has changed you positionally (from alienation to union with Christ) that you may reflect his glory practically in how you live (Eph 1:4, 2:1-10, 4:1).
To that end, Milton Vincent concludes the following:
Indeed, the more I embrace and experience the gospel, the more I delight in the worship of God, the more expressive my joy in Him becomes, and the more I yearn to glorify Him in all I say and do.
As you consider your “pet” sin, in what ways does the gospel rightly motivate and enable you to change? Building upon the mandate and motivation, Paul then reminds them of God’s provision for change.
Read the next post in this series soon.
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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