Gospel Logic in Our Relationships - Ephesians 4:17–5:2

September 4, 2022 Preacher: Rev. Stacey Severance Series: Gospel Logic

Scripture: Ephesians 4:17– 5:2

How much of the trouble in your life is the result of problematic relationships? How much stress is induced, anger provoked, insecurities revealed, and feelings hurt through people you know and with whom you interact? But on the flip side of that, how much joy and hope in your life is the result of encouraging relationships?

We are surrounded by relationships of different kinds. Some we love, some we don’t like. Some are surface-level, some are deeper, so to speak. Some are born from certain circumstances or during certain seasons of life; some you are born into and they are life-long. And some are easier than others. Some are difficult, confusing, and exhausting.

In every relationship, we relate from a position or a place, and we relate in a way that is consistent with our position in the relationship. For example, you may be the parent or the child. You may be a spouse, a co-worker, a boss, an employee, a friend, a neighbor, a student, a teacher, a teammate, or a coach. Your position in the relationship affects how you relate. 

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments have a lot to say about relationships. We learn that because we are inherently sinful, our position in any relationship is naturally affected by sin. Romans 3 says, “None is righteous…not one.” Ephesians 2, all people are “dead in sins, by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”  Our natural position is self-centered, self-righteous, self-preserving, and self-important.

But Jesus Christ frees His people from our sinful position in relationships. So we no longer have to be prisoners to that position.

So how do we practice and enjoy this freedom that Jesus provides? In short, it is through who Him is and what He has done. Jesus is the relationship transformer and He performed a relationship-transforming work. 

Notice the outline on p.6 in your WG. This passage in Ephesians 4 shows us that 1. Through Christ and His finished work, a believer’s relationship with God is now placed in this new and opposite position, and 2. In Christ and His finished work, a believer’s relationships with others must be approached from this new and opposite position. \

We must learn to apply the “gospel logic” that Dr. Sinclair Ferguson speaks of in his teaching on John 14, which I mentioned last week, and which inspired this short sermon series. And by “the finished work” of Jesus I mean His humble birth, His righteous life, His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection.

Now, first of all, Jesus began with our primary relationship; the relationship with our Creator. He had to fix that first. That relationship was fundamentally broken by sin. Look at what Paul says to the churches, verse [17] Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”

Many of the original listeners were not ethnic Jews, not of Hebrew ancestry. Perhaps almost all of them were non-Jews by birth. But an essential component of Christ’s relationship-transforming work is adoption. These new Christians are now God’s people, His children. They are now in the covenant of Abraham. This is a new position. 

And as a result, the old ways of relating to God are out of place. This is the description of those who remain outside the covenant, verse [18] “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God.” In other words, they are blind to and estranged from God.

Why? “Because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” This “ignorance” is a lack of knowledge. The hard heart will not receive the truth. The hard heart will not accept correction. It will not listen or admit to wrongdoing. And this hardness is compounding; it grows. 

The hard heart shuts out the living God. Notice verse [19] They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Like the tips of a guitar player’s fingers, or like the hard places on a runner’s feet, the unregenerate heart grows tough and lacks feeling: not physical feeling, but spiritual feeling. This is the natural person apart from Jesus Christ.

Now, certainly, people are not as bad as they could be. God’s common grace abounds, so that people’s consciences are sound in some ways. But you see, without God’s intervention, we spiral into all kinds of evil, even the most heinous. That is the natural path. “But” notice verse [20], Paul tells them, “that is not the way you learned Christ!” assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.”

Believers should not be content to live as though we have not heard or learned who Jesus is and what He has done. The gospel is good news for our relationship with God. The gospel is the glorious knowledge of “who” and “what.” Jesus is the core of all Christian doctrine. He is not secondary in any facet of life. And so believers, verse [22], should be taught, to put off your old self, 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 self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” We pursue this as we look to and trust in Jesus.

The Fall of 1991 was a fun time for many sports fans. I was a 9th grade boy. Still too young to drive, I was collecting baseball cards, shooting basketball everyday in my backyard, and following the Atlanta Braves as they went “from worst to first.” They caught the Los Angeles Dodgers on the next-to-last day of the regular season to win the division after finishing in last place the year before. As a result, they were in a new and, in fact, opposite position from a year earlier.

You see, Through Christ and His finished work, a believer’s relationship with God is now placed in this new and opposite position. We are brought into a right relationship with Him. 

It is diametrically different. Polar opposite. There was hostility; now there is peace. We were bitter enemies; now we are beloved family. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul says “Because of God you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” We have this position with God because this is the position Jesus Christ has with God, and we are with Him, we are in Him.

In Jesus, we go from “worst to first” with God. Have you gone from worst to first in Christ? You must repent of your sin and trust in Christ to have your relationship with God transformed. And if you have, do you reflect on this renewed relationship with your Creator, and do you explore what it means for your life now? Or in the busyness and stress of life, have you lost sight of it? 

This new and opposition position comes to bear on relationships with all who are around us. That is why Paul launches into instruction about relationships. Look with me at verse 25, but as we look at this, keep this truth in mind: that the commands Paul gives to us were kept perfectly by Jesus during His earthly life. Yes, we must see these commands as rules for us to follow, but we can follow them because Christ kept them perfectly in our place.

Paul writes, “Therefore,” meaning because of this new status with God, “having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Lies have no place among the people of God. 

We must live in the light - first of all, in our relationships within the church. That is the context of Ephesians 4. We are the body of Christ. He is the Head, we are the members of the body. And so truth must guide how we behave toward each other, and secondarily, truth must guide how we behave toward all people.

Verse [26] Be angry and do not sin.” There are righteous frustrations. Jesus showed righteous anger during His earthly ministry. Unrighteous responses are not helpful. They are sinful and ineffective. Verse 26, “do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” 

Give no place to Satan; give him no position, because you have this new position in Jesus. Don’t let the enemy stay overnight; don’t let him crash on the couch. He doesn’t belong.

Some translate this, “Do not give the devil a foothold,” which I also like. We give Satan a foothold when we tolerate anger and delay peace-making in relationships.

Verse [28] “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Honest labor is appropriate for God’s people. Incidentally, the Lord Jesus performed honest work during His life. We will actually look at the subject of work next week, applying gospel logic in our work. 

But you see, any kind of taking advantage of others is out of place within the family of God; and these things don’t belong in any relationship that a Christian has with any person, because Jesus saved us from all of that. We are with God now in Him.

And now look at what Paul says about our words, verse [29] “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Think of the Lord Jesus’ words throughout the gospels. He did not always say what people wanted to hear, who understood what was necessary in any occasion. Worthless talk is harmful and it tears a person down. This literally describes “rotten” talk.

Do you ever go into your pantry or cabinet, where you stored some potatoes for example, and when you open the door, the rotten smell hits you in the face? Or even worse, the little flies scatter. Your food has become a host for bacteria and fungus. If rot is not dealt with, it spreads. You’ve probably been around someone or you have been that someone from whom rot comes. But talk that is filled with the grace of Jesus Christ has the opposite effect. It brings health. 

Notice at verse [30] “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” God’s Spirit lives within a person who is born again. This is a benefit of your new position in Jesus. God’s Spirit is always with you.

Have you ever had someone drag you into a situation where you didn’t belong or want to be? The Holy Spirit wants no part of our former way of life. He comes to bear good fruit in our relationships with God and others. It pains Him for us to behave as though we have not been brought from darkness into light.

Verse [31] Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Certainly the Lord Jesus did this all the way to the grave. “Bitterness” is hatred. “Wrath” is blowing up in anger. “Clamor” is shouting, yelling. “Slander” is abusive speech, running down someone either to their face or behind their back. And “malice” is ill-will, meaning harm toward someone. 

Instead, verse [32] “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” In Christ, God gave undeserved and unsolicited forgiveness. Remember, this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son.

Ch. 5, v. [1] “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. We have the benefit of the perfect human Imitator of God. He was God in the flesh, in fact, yet fully human, able to stand in our place. Verse [2] And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” 

From your new position with God, take this new position with others. How can we do this without Christ in view? Jesus Himself is the power to do so. Do you think you can just take one or two looks at Jesus and then off you go? No! In Christ and His finished work, a believer’s relationships with others must be approached from this new and opposite position. 

This week I read a statement made by Paul Tripp in a book he wrote specifically for pastors. He says this: “When I hear a sermon that is essentially law-driven, that is, asking the law to do what only the grace of Jesus Christ can accomplish, I am immediately concerned about the preacher. I immediately wonder about his view of himself, because if he had any self-consciousness about his own weakness and sin, he would find little hope and comfort for himself and his hearers in that kind of sermon.” 

Paul’s words in this second section of the passage looks closely at the law of God laid out clearly for His people, but Paul does not deliver a law-driven message. Paul does not, and we cannot, ask “the law to do what only the grace of Jesus Christ can accomplish.” This is why Who and What is How. Jesus and His work is How. He died like one who was in opposition to God, so we could have peace with God. 

The gospel is so opposite of how we naturally think. Jesus loved us toward what God wanted us to be. The perfect practitioner or grace and truth. 

Whatever relationship troubles you, Jesus understands. He dealt with troubled relationships. When you look continually to Him, by the power of God’s Spirit, He will lead you in how to relate. I think of how marriage relationships can grow so troubled, even for Christians. A husband and wife must say to one other,  “Let’s look at Jesus and go from there. Let’s look only to Christ Jesus as we go — all the way — and we will learn how to relate.

I think about relationships among believers in the church. Paul says in various places that folks are granted different gifts by God. We can get frustrated with others and write them off or avoid them if they are not like us. If they don’t serve like us, or have faith like us. People can only do what God has granted them the ability to do. We are called in Christ to love one another.

And then as we face our non-Christian relationships of all kinds, in Christ we can relate like Christ for the glory of Christ. Have you heard the wonderful benediction in 1 Thessalonians 5: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

Let’s bow in prayer.