We’re getting closer and closer to Passover. Based on Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians, these months leading up to Passover (Pesach) and the Day of Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot) are a time of self-examination for New Covenant Christians. We spend time in prayer and study, asking God to share what He sees in us and help us grow and change to become more like Him. We take time to try and figure out what things in us still don’t look like God, repent of them, and seek His aid in changing our lives to align more and more with His ways.
A couple weeks ago, I kept ending up in Ephesians 5 as I read my daily devotional and worked through a month-long scripture writing study on deception (you can find similar scripture writing plans by clicking here). There’s a lot to think about in this chapter. It comes near the end of a fairly long letter where Paul writes to believers about the blessings and spiritual inheritance that we have through Christ, and says he gives thanks for the faith and love they’re already showing (Eph. 1). Paul reminds them of their transgressions/offenses and sins which God and Christ saved them from when He took those who were once outside God’s family and made them wholly part of His people (Eph. 2). As the letter goes on, Paul implores his readers to value the great and wonderful mysteries God grants us, not to lose heart when some of us suffer, and to fully commit to our relationship with Jesus Christ (Eph. 3). Based on all this, Paul calls his readers to unity with their fellow believers and insists they live holy, spiritual lives (Eph. 4).
Throughout the letter, Paul makes some brutal statements about our spiritual condition before we entered a relationship with God. “You were dead in your offenses and sins” and “were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1, 3, NET). In our lives before meeting Jesus, we were “corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires” (4:22). Paul even says, “you were at one time darkness” (5:8). This sinful state is where we all started out, desperately in need of Jesus to save us. We want to move on from that as quickly as possible and embrace all the good things God tells us about our new identities in Him. And while it is good and right to fully embrace who we are in God, we also need to remember how bad things were without Him. If we don’t keep that perspective, then it’ll be easy to slip back into worldly things because we don’t think of them as being “that bad.”
Slipping Back is Idolatry
Humans have a tendency for self-justification. Even when we’re beating ourselves up about something, we might also be making excuses for ourselves. Or maybe we read through the Bible and see our conduct in some of the things God says not to do, then tell ourselves that it’s not really all that bad. We make mistakes, but we’re human. No big deal.
It is true that God can remove our sins and He has abundant mercy for our mistakes. But it’s not because they’re “no big deal.” Sin results in death, and the reason God can forgive us so freely is because Jesus died in our place. That’s a really big deal. We need to understand the magnitude of what Jesus did for us, and the level of offense we cause if we turn back to wicked ways and brush it off as something that doesn’t really matter. In his one-year Worship the King devotional, Chris Tiegreen sums it up like this:
“we were idolaters. False worshipers. People who gave glory and honor to things that were not worthy, while neglecting the glory and honor that should go to the One who is. That hurts.
“It’s a brutal assessment, but we have to own up to it. We don’t like to think of our flirtation with impurity or materialism as idol worship, but it is.”Chris Tiegreen, Worship the King, p. 51
Going back to Ephesians, Paul says that flirting with things like “sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed … vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting” is “not fitting for the saints” and “out of character” for those saying they want to imitate Jesus’s way of life (Eph. 5:1-4, NET). If we tell ourselves that things God calls sins are okay for us, then it turns into idolatry. We’re putting our desires for sinful things higher than our desire for God and saying our ideas of morality are more accurate than His.
Moving Into the Light
Emphasizing our need to change and grow as we follow Jesus Christ does not downplay God’s mercy or grace in any way. Grace is something we can’t do anything to earn, but once we accept God’s grace we enter a covenant with Him and agree to live in a spiritual way. He expects certain things of people who promise to follow Him, including that we won’t run off after things which have nothing to do with godliness.
For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be sharers with them, for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live like children of light—for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth—trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.Eph. 5:5-10, NET
God’s connection with Light is something we’ve explored in other Bible study posts. We’re supposed to shine with Jesus’s light in our lives, to be like lamps burning with bright fire as we imitate the Light of our Messiah. There’s a sharp divide in the world that’s been there since the fall of mankind. On the one hand, there is darkness and death. On the other, there is light and life. Jesus calling us out of darkness gives us the option to choose light. It’s an incredible gift. And unless we don’t really value that gift of Light, we’ll be doing our best to “live like children of light.”
Living With Wisdom
Therefore consider carefully how you live—not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.Ephesians 5:15-21, NET
Because of everything Paul talked about before–particularly the way our dark pasts contrast with the light we’re supposed to live in now–he urges us to “consider carefully how you live.” We ought to do this careful consideration throughout the year, but Passover is a particularly fitting time for a check-in. How wise are we in how we live our lives? Are we letting God fill us with His spirit, then letting that pour out through our lips as praise, worship, and thanks? Do we demonstrate our reverence for Christ by submitting to each other in love?
I doubt we can fully answer “yes” to all these questions (I know I can’t), and this isn’t even a full list of everything we’re supposed to do as we imitate Christ. But remember that as long as you’re on the path toward perfection, God treats you as if you’re already perfect. When we trust Him and do our best to follow His example of holiness, He’ll keep filling us with His spirit and light. We’ll be able to stay on track following Him instead of slipping back into idolatry. He’ll empower us to grow and change, becoming more and more like Him each year.
Featured image by Corey David Robinson from Lightstock
Song Recommendation: “Immanuel” by Joshua Aaron