Sunday, March 12, 2023

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent - Oculi - Eph 5:1-9


Lent 3

                                                                                      Eph 5:1-9



          Lent is a season of repentance. Repentance certainly means that we confess our sin to God and ask for forgiveness on account of Christ.  However, repentance also means that we then turn away from the sin we have confessed.  Lent calls us to a renewed struggle against sin. And the flip side of this is that Lent calls us to a renewed effort to live in ways that please God.

          Our epistle lesson for today certainly fits with this theme. The apostle Paul urges us both to live the life of faith and also to turn away from sin.  In this brief passage we are reminded about what we once were, and what God has done in Christ in order to save us.  We also learn about the difference this makes as we live our lives.

          Paul begins our text by writing, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” The word “therefore” means that Paul’s statement is picking up on what has just said in the previous verse.  There he urged, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

          The apostle calls us to be kind and to forgive one another as God in Christ forgave us.  In our text he tells us that to do this in imitation of God.  After all, because of what God has done, we are beloved children.  We have been shown God’s love and so Paul tells us that we are to “walk in love.”  Then the apostle explicitly states how we have been shown love when he writes, “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

          Christ loved us.  His love was more than just words.  It was one of action as he gave himself for us.  Now Paul’s words a little later will give us a chance to reflect on why he needed to do this.  But for now we need to recognize that Christ’s sacrificial love for us is the reason that we walk in love as we deal with those around us.  We show care, sympathy, and support toward others because of the love that Jesus Christ has shown to us.

          The Christian life involves positive actions – actions in which we do things for others.  It also involves the avoidance of actions.  The apostle goes on to say, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”  Paul reminds us that our sexual activity must conform to God’s will. God has revealed in his word that sexual intercourse is to be shared only between husband and wife.  Beyond this, the intentional generation of lustful thoughts by looking at pornography is sinful.  As Paul says, these things “must not even be named among you.”

          Along with this Paul lists covetousness. Though in our context this may have sexual activity in mind, Paul certainly also uses the word to describe the ways that we desire the success and wealth that others have.  We begrudge the fact that others have things we don’t, and our thoughts focus on our desire for them. That is why in our text Paul says that a covetous person is an idolater. Our covetousness allows those things we desire to take the place in our heart that should be occupied by God.

          The apostle leaves no doubt about the outcome for those who remain in sexual immorality and covetousness.  He says, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”

          Those who remain in sin – those who do not repent - will not inherit the kingdom of God.  God’s wrath will come upon them on the Last Day and they will receive damnation.  We were no different from the sons of disobedience.  Earlier in this letter Paul said, And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience -- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

          This is what we were.  This is the reason that Christ “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  On Good Friday, Jesus the sinless One offered himself in the place of sinners.  He took our sins as his own. This is the way that God removed our sin.  Paul told the Romans that God acted, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” That wrath of God against sexual immorality, covetousness, and every other sin was directed against Jesus Christ in our place.  By his sacrifice on the cross God was pleased to receive us as his forgiven and beloved children.

          God did this because of his grace – his undeserved love and mercy towards us.  And God’s saving grace did not end as Jesus’ dead body was buried in a tomb.  It could not because the wages of sin is death.  In order to defeat sin and its consequences completely, God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day.  And he didn’t stop there.  Forty days after his resurrection, the Father exalted Jesus as he ascended into heaven and was seated at God’s right hand.

          You have been baptized into Christ.  Because you have, Paul says that you are “in Christ.” This means that you have been joined to Christ and his saving work.  And this allows Paul to make rather dramatic statements.  Earlier in this letter, the apostle wrote, 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 -- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

          Notice how Paul says that you have been raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places.  Because of baptism and faith the victory of Christ’s resurrection and ascension is already yours!  Your sins are forgiven.  Your future is secured.  When Christ returns on the Last Day he will raise your body and you will live forever in the victory he has won.

          That final victory still remains in the future for us.  We live in the “now and the not yet.”  In Christ through faith we already now have forgiveness and life.  But the Last Day has not yet arrived, and so that is why Paul has to write the words of our text.  The “not yet” means that we still face the struggle against sin.

          In order to take up this battle, we return to our baptism.  Paul says in Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  Notice how sharing in the death of the risen Lord leads us to walk in newness of life.  That is because the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead gave you new life in baptism.

          Paul says in this letter that we have learned the truth in Jesus “to put off your old man, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,

and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” This is what happens when we return to our baptism in faith.  We confess our sin as we put of the old man.  In faith we believe the promises of God about our baptism – that it is the source of the Spirit’s work in our life by which we have been made a new creation. In baptism we have put on the new man who lives according to God’s will, and we return in faith to our baptism so that by the Spirit’s work he can enable the new man to guide our life.

          Until we die or Christ returns there will aways be a remnant of the old Adam in us.  Paul told the Galatians, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

          Because this struggle is present, Paul continues to remind us of what God has done for us in Christ. We need to hear the Gospel again and again. And he also exhorts us to live as what God has made us to be. 

At the end of our text, Paul shifts imagery.  He has mentioned the sons of disobedience who live in sexual immorality and covetousness, and said that because of these things the wrath of God will come upon them. Then he adds, “Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).”

You were once darkness.  But God acted to save you.  Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  It was not your works.  It it was the work mentioned in our text when the apostle states that “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

 Baptized into Christ you have received the washing of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit.  Now you are light in the Lord. God has made you his own through the work of Christ and the Spirit.  And so Paul calls us to be what we are.  He says, “Walk as children of light.” Walking as children of light means that we do all that is good and right and true.  We do this because we are beloved children God.  Or as Paul says at the beginning of our text, we now walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.















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