“Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” (Ephesians 2:3, NASB95)
In the social media I regularly see posts about groups of people who claim to walk by one standard yet embrace lifestyles that are not consistent with the standard. Specifically, I am thinking today of a group of “Christian ministers” standing together holding hands in unity as they held up signs in front of an abortion clinic proclaiming, “Pro-faith, Pro-family, Pro-choice.” These pictures brought a strong response from some, with one popular blogger writing, “Pray for their souls. They are marching right into Hell and singing songs along the way. Pray they turn back before it's too late.” Under the auspices of denouncing the shame “thrown” upon women seeking abortions, these people came together to bless the abortion facility and the destructive and murderous work that it does.
I can understand standing against shaming people and preferring to act graciously toward them, but bending truth in order justify their repulsion of the shame is not the answer. The reality is that these ministers have already bought into a liberal theology, one that allows them to selectively pick and choose from God’s word what they will accept and how they will apply it. They substitute the happiness of man for the will of God, decrying anyone who would deny a person seeking what is right in their own eyes.
Today we have a growing number of churches who hold to statements such as, “[xxx xxx] Church is a caring, inquiring, inclusive community worshiping God, pursuing the way of Christ, serving neighbors near and far with hearts, hands, and minds.” And, “… encourages thoughtful inquiry; takes the Bible seriously, but not literally.” What is the difference between “pursuing the way of Christ” and submitting to the headship of Christ? What is the difference between “seriously” and literally? Simply put, the Bible to them has become a voice among voices, but not THE voice in the decisions they make as they seek to embrace and include those around them. This might seem like a wonderful ideal, but in adopting it they have let their idealism cloud truth. They have set aside the word of God as the true and inerrant word of God and have adopted is as mere counsel to help inform their ideas.
Paul, in writing to the Ephesian believers, drew a contrast between the way they once lived and the new life that had been set apart to live. While they surely struggled at times in walking according to the image of Christ they were reminded that it was Christ who changed them and set them apart to live differently. This meant setting aside some things that they once did or believed for that which God has declared to be right and good. It meant even setting aside some “fleshly” desires or things that seemed good at the moment for the right way that God has set apart for them in His word. When they were subject to the rule of the evil one no one should have been surprised that they walked in step with the evil one. But afterward as children of God, saved by Christ, and indwelt by the Spirit they were called and enabled to walk differently. They were no longer to indulge or even entertain indulging those other things.
In Christ there is a perfect balance between truth and grace which does not require watering down one in order to accommodate the other. Sure, society might stand up in angry resistance to Christians because they do not embrace their desires, views and lifestyles, but why should we be surprised. We know from God’s word that those who do not know Christ are children of the devil, and the devil is opposed to God. We also know that those who do not know Christ do not have the Spirit of God in them and are led by the prince of the power of the air. We know that those who do not know Christ do not feel compelled to abide by the Word of God nor adhere to what God declares as right and good. There should be a stark contrast between them, and we should not be surprised when we see it become an issue in our culture and our personal encounters.
But for believers to alter the word and live in a compromised way is not the answer. I’m sure among them there are those who have been deceived by wolves and misled by their view of compassion in order to represent God as a loving and gracious God who accepts all people in all circumstances, and permits them to openly embrace those same things. But in doing this they have lost sight of the truth that God also has called us to live differently, and not according to the way we once walked. Paul is reminding his readers that they too once walked according to the flesh or the ways of the world, the evil one, and their own desires as people who were separated from God. But this was not the “now” case, and as such they were evidencing this change by walking accordingly.
I am greatly troubled by these religious leaders using their position to lead people into deception and a distorted gospel. But more personally, I am troubled when I continue to do those things that are contrary to how God would have me to walk as well. It’s not just them. We’ve all been called to walk differently in Christ because we have a new identity. We have been purchased by His blood, set free from the law of sin, and have been enabled to walk victoriously before Him. We have been shown grace by God and He has given us His word to hide in our hearts and to direct our steps. He has shown us even by the example of His Son in Scripture how to walk rightly among those who would oppose this while challenging people to look to God and trust that He indeed does love them and has sent His Son to draw them back to Him. And we have been given the Spirit to indwell and enliven us, to make His word living and active, and to guide us in our walk with Him. We can walk in truth with grace without compromising either one. Whether people accept us for it or not really is not up to us but to God who draws people to Himself, who opens their eyes, and gives them His great gift of salvation. We are not to let our desires be the determinant of our belief, but to allow God to shape our desires according to His truth as we seek after Him and walk as He has called us to walk in the power of His Spirit.
Paul, in encouraging Timothy near the end of his own life, wrote, “Now you [Timothy] followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:10–17, NASB95)