Monday, June 20, 2011

Before and After (Ephesians)

One of the repeated themes in the letter to the Ephesians is the clear distinction between the state of being before belief compared to that which comes after belief. People who make the decision to believe are changed. This is a truth that often escapes us afterwards. We know that it is true in our relationship with God, but we are also keenly aware that the change as it is lived out is a (sometimes slow) process that God works out in our lives with our cooperation. The fact that we forget that this process is ongoing in the lives of all believers is what causes us to try to force everyone’s change to reflect ours through rules and laws and artificial control. More often than not, we should not try to take on the task that is God’s responsibility in other’s lives.

So, beyond that reminder/warning, what does the change look like according to Paul in Ephesians? There a five clear “before/after” statements here:

Ephesians 2:1-10 “Formerly dead in sin… now, alive through faith in Christ.” The first dramatic change is the resurrection we experience on a spiritual level. Being alive spiritually speaking is what makes all the changes possible. This is why it is ridiculous to try to impose the Christian lifestyle and morals on people who do not believe through legal means. You can’t govern morality.

Ephesians 2:11-13 “Formerly separate from God… now, near in Christ.” It is not religion that brings us close to God. The Jews made this mistake when they took pride in their status as God’s people. They failed to see that it was nothing special in them that brought them near to God. He approached and rescued them. It was all about grace. Today, everyone who believes has been approached by God and is near to Him. He is changing us, but we often forget and begin to think of the changes as something we have achieved on our own. We take pride in our position and behavior and think we are some standard for others to emulate. That is a pathetic (and dangerous) attitude to take.

Ephesians 2:19-22 “Formerly alone… now, in community.” While we make a mistake when we think that we have a standard that we can impose upon everybody to help them become more Christ-like, we are created to be in community. Sin separates us from everyone and breaks every relationship in our lives. After belief, however, we have the blessing of the community with God and His people. We can build each other up and help each other to grow and change. That help is achieved not through religion or legalism, but through love and encouragement. Love can come in the form of “tough love” at times, but it always looks different than legalistic imposition.

Ephesians 4:17-24 “Formerly in darkness of mind… now, with a renewed mind.” The biggest way we experience the change is in our outlook. Before we believe we struggle to understand the world and we fail to see the things of God. After we believe we do begin to understand more, but mostly we give up the struggle. The things of God are too large for our creaturely minds to fully grasp. In our walk with God, though, we begin to learn from Him and to grow in understanding. We enter into a process for eternity.

Ephesians 5:8 “Formerly darkness… now, light.” In belief we change from being people who contribute to the confusion and misdirection of the world—a part of the problem—and we become a source of light in the world. Our lives are used by God to help other people discover the truth and enter into the changing process with Him. It is a whole chain-reaction sort of thing that has been going on in small, quiet ways for centuries. Not the huge, mighty, institutional religious type of Christendom that most people think of when they hear the word Christianity; but rather the quiet, life-changing, power of relationships.

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