The Lord's Day Morning
June 11, 2006
“The New Walk (1): More Reasons Why”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians 5, as we continue to work through this great book together. I would simply draw your attention to this: When we moved from Ephesians 5:4, the last verse that we studied last week, to Ephesians 5:5, the verse that we're going to begin studying this week, we moved into a new section of Paul's argument in this book.
Now if you've read ahead, and I trust that you have, you have noticed that the subject matter in Ephesians 5:3-4, actually continues in Ephesians 5:5, 6, and 7, and actually beyond. So why am I saying that we have shifted into a new section? Because you will remember that from Ephesians 4:17 all the way down to Ephesians 5:4, the Apostle Paul is giving this great call for us to live distinctively as Christians; and he says that it's important for us to live distinctively as Christians in this world for our unity, for the glory of God, for our gospel witness in the world. And in that passage, especially from verse 25 on, he gives six specific examples. The Apostle Paul is not satisfied with giving general instructions; he gives specific exhortations and instructions to us as Christians, and so he gives six specific examples or areas in which he wants us to live out the Christian life, to walk distinctively as Christians, to be different from the world, and we've been going through those for the last number of weeks.
In verse 25, he focused on our truth-telling, and it's obvious to us how a group of people that get together, and they’re with one another, but they don't tell one another the truth–that people won't be unified, and they won't bear a distinctive witness in a world that is filled with lies, and with denial and with untruth; and so, the Apostle Paul calls us to be truth-tellers.
And then we looked at verse 26 and verse 27, where he dealt with the management of anger, and he said we're not going to sinfully express anger, and we're not going to give way to sinful anger in the context of the Christian community. We’re going to show how you deal with anger by the gospel in this family, in this people of God, and thus we're going to be different from the world; and it's going to foster the unity of the body, and it's going to bear witness to the glory of God.
In verse 28, he dealt with stealing, or with our honesty. We’re going to be different from the world. We’re going to be honest with people's properties and goods.
In verses 29 and 30, he spoke about not grieving the Holy Spirit with unwholesome or unedifying talk; that when we talk in this community, in this family, our goal is going to be to edify one another. When we open our mouths, our desire is to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ. Even if we have to say hard things, our ultimate desire is to build up, it is to edify; not to tear down, to slander, to undermine, to harm one another.
Then we saw in verses 31 of chapter 4 to verse 2 of chapter 5, the Apostle Paul zeroed in on the area of bitterness. Some of you are captured by bitterness, but we're going to be a people — rather than being captured by bitterness, not trusting God's loving rule and provision for us — we're going to be a people characterized by kindness and a great capacity for forgiveness. We’re not going to be people who are shriveled up with bitterness. And that's one way we're going to be different from the world, and we're going to enhance the unity of the body.
And then, last week we looked at the whole area of sexual immorality and vulgar speech about sexuality, in Ephesians 5:3, 4. I have this outlined for you on the sheet that is provided today, but Paul's point is that in these specific areas, these six areas, he wants us to be distinct as Christians from the world, to live distinctly from the world because of who we are, because of what God has done in us by His grace in Jesus Christ.
And one theme that we saw running throughout this is that for a Christian, life is not centered on ourselves. For a Christian, life is not ‘what's in it for me? I'm looking out for #1.’ For a Christian, life is not centered on ourselves; it is first of all centered on God. Our desire is to glorify Him in everything. Our desire is to be like Him in everything, to emulate His own character.
And furthermore, because God loves the church, because the church is the apple of His eye, because He gave His own Son to redeem the church, to make for Himself a people from every tribe and tongue and race, God loves that church. And if we're like God and have been made to be like Him through His grace, we're going to love His church, too, and so our ethics, our behavior as Christians is going to be church-centered. In other words, we're going to be asking ourselves in the course of our speech and our behavior, “How is what I am about to do going to edify the church? How's it going to build up the church? What is the impact of what I am about to do going to be on the church?”
So we're not only God-centered, but we're church-centered and other-focused. That is, our concern, again, is not just for ourselves; it's for the well-being of others, especially in the family of God, but also outside the family of God–our neighbors who are not in Christ, pagans, those who don't worship the living God through Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel (nevertheless who are made in the image of God, and therefore we are going to be kind to them); we're going to do good by them insofar as it is left up to us.
And so the Apostle Paul throughout this passage is calling us to a radically God-centered, church-centered, other-focused way of life.
Now, he's in the middle of this discussion of sexual immorality that runs from Ephesians 5:3 and on down, even past verse 7…why do I say that we're entering into a new section? Because he's shifting from his particular examples to the question of motivations: why do we do what we do as Christians.
You know, in large measure the song that the choir just sang is about motivation. ‘Why is it,’ Christina Rossetti is asking herself, ‘Why is it that I love God? What motivates me to love God?’ And you see her in a very provocative way say, ‘You know, it is true that God by the shedding of His Son's blood saved me from hell, but that's not the only reason I love God.’ And she goes down a list of things, and she finally says ‘It's because You are who You are, God. You are altogether lovely. There is nothing in this world more glorious than You. I love You because of You.’ It's a glorious list of reasons why a Christian might love God.
Well, the Apostle Paul is concerned to arm you with motivations to live the Christian life, and, by the way, especially in this area of sexual immorality, because the Apostle Paul knows that this is a profoundly powerful sin. There's a reason why this sin was listed amongst the “Seven Deadly Sins.” The Apostle Paul knows the power of this sin. None of us are immune from it.
All of us have certain sins that we are more or less prone to, and they’re different for every single one of us. Our personalities feed into it, our circumstances feed into it, the opportunities that come our way feed into it. There are a variety of reasons why we are more or less susceptible to this sin or to that. For instance, to this point in my life (it could change the minute I step out of this pulpit), I have never had the slightest inclination to gamble. Maybe it's because I'm of Scottish descent, and I'm too greedy to risk losing a few shekels, but it has never crossed my mind to want to gamble! Now I could walk out of the pulpit, and I could be struck with an overwhelming desire to head to the boats, OK? I'm not saying that I'm immune to that, but I'm saying to this point in my life that has not been one of my temptations. But it may well have been a tremendous temptation for you, and maybe not only a temptation, but a temptation that has wrought some damage in your life and in the life of your family. Because I haven't had that temptation doesn't mean I'm more holy than you; in fact, it's an interesting thing: John Calvin says it is precisely the person who has dealt with a temptation and overcome it who has cultivated a virtue that the person who has not had to overcome that temptation does not have.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, I want you to understand that if you have wrestled with any sin, and specifically this sin, I don't esteem you less for having wrestled — and even stumbled; I esteem you more when you have wrestled and stumbled, and by God's grace you have overcome, because God has wrought a virtue in you in the painful process of overcoming sin that perhaps I do not have myself, and which I need to learn from. So let's understand that right at the very outset.
But let's also understand that the Apostle Paul knows that this is a deadly sin, and so he wants to arm you with as many arguments as he possibly can.
I've shared this story with you before, but it's so apropos to this I want to say it again. One of my dearest friends in life is a ruling elder in another church, and during a very difficult time, he and some other elders were called upon to help a young woman who was in a very, very tight spot. She was facing a tremendous challenge in life, and they faithfully pastored her and guided her through a section in life where she needed a husband to help her with certain things, but she didn't have a husband to help her with those things, and so those elders and their wives came alongside of her and filled in a gap in her life to help her.
Over the course of the months, though, this elder friend of mine spent more time perhaps helping her than anyone else, and he felt his heart being drawn to her. And he felt her heart being drawn to him, and it scared him to death, and rightly so. That drawing power became so overwhelming that at one point he literally listed all of the things that would happen if he were to be unfaithful with his wife and to have an illicit relationship with this woman. And God in His mercy used all of those arguments that he wrote down on that sheet of paper in that dark night of the soul to keep him from stepping across a line from which he perhaps may not have returned. And so he pulled back out, and others came into that situation and carried on as they needed to.
But my point is he had to arm himself with arguments: ‘You know, if I do this I’ll lose my wife, and I love my wife more than anything else in the world. If I do this I’ll lose my children, and I love them more than anything else. If I do this I’ll be disciplined by the church, and there's nothing more that I want than to serve in the church as a shepherd….’ He had to make arguments as to why he couldn't go that way.
And the Apostle Paul is so kind to give us arguments because he knows that our souls need arguments, because temptation is powerful.
Now, you may be a man today and you've got perhaps a marriage in which you don't sense love and esteem in your wife, and along comes an attractive woman. She's in your workplace, or you meet her in some other environment and she shows you attention and respect. And she's attractive, and she's young, and she speaks to you like you think you ought to be spoken to, and the way that you’re not being spoken to at home. And she's affirming of you, and she's even flattering of you, and you feel your heart being tugged in that direction. And the Apostle Paul is saying you need to understand that this particular sin, husbands, is a sin that can lead you right out of the church, right out of the kingdom, right into the very pit of hell. This is a sin that can get hold of your heart. It can separate you from everything that is of value in this life.
And it's the same thing for wives, you understand. A wife can be saying ‘Look, I don't have a husband that is emotionally there for me. He doesn't understand me. He doesn't care about me. He doesn't spend time on me.’ And then someone comes along that provides everything that he's not providing, and it seems so, so, right.
And maybe you’re a young person… ‘I'm young! I'm a young guy…I've got hormones. She's pretty, and I'm here, and there's nobody else here. Why not?’ Or maybe you’re struggling with a same-sex attraction. I mean, there are 50,000 permutations on this thing of sexual immorality, aren't there? The Apostle Paul knows that they come in all varieties and great potency, and that they pull on our soul; and so, the Apostle Paul is trying to arm us with as many arguments in this as he can possibly give us.
Don't you love that about the Bible? The Bible doesn't speak to us in vague generalities. You know, Paul doesn't say ‘Now, as for sexual immorality, one point: Don't sin.’ That's a little bit like…you know, has your computer ever spoken to you? You’re writing out your Word document, and suddenly the thing pops up: “Error Message: There has been a fatal error. The computer will now shut down. OK?” Now, I want another button other than OK! No, it's not OK! I was just making my Word document! Don't tell me “There's been a fatal error. The computer will now shut down. OK?” It's not OK!! That's not…the information is not helpful to me!
Or maybe you've been driving along in your car, and the light comes on “Maintenance Required.” Well, what does that mean? I mean, is the engine about to blow up? Do I need to immediately stop the car on the side of the road and call AAA? I want to know! It doesn't tell me.
But the Bible doesn't do that to us. The Apostle Paul knows that sins are specific, and they need specificity in response to them, and so in his goodness he arms us with arguments so that we can battle.
Now, his motivations in this whole section from Ephesians 5:5 all the way down through Ephesians 5:21 — and, by the way, there are four of these motivations, so you would think that this would take me four weeks to get through, but it's going to take five, because I'm not going to get out of Point One…in fact, I'm going to get half-way into Point One today, OK?
But he gives four motivations. But these are not the only motivations the Apostle Paul gives. You may be thinking, look, the motivation for the Christian life is grace…and of course you’re right. Grace under girds everything that we do in the Christian life, and what I'm about to say… in no way do I want to undermine the grace motivation for Christian living, but I do want you to notice that in this passage that is not one of the four motivations the Apostle Paul gives here–because the Apostle Paul knows that when you face the hour of temptation, you better have as many counter-motivations of the Spirit in your bag as you possibly can. And so underlying all of these things are the overwhelming, transforming, transcending reality of the grace of God in Christ to us, but the Apostle Paul gives us a lot of arguments when it comes to sexual immorality.
For instance, in this very passage if you look back to Ephesians 5:4, look at the final words:
“…there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather the giving of thanks.”
He's concluding that section — you’re not to be sexually immoral, you’re not to be given over to sexual uncleanness, to sexual coveting (coveting someone who's not your wife or your husband), you’re not to even be given over to vulgarity or coarse jesting or crude language about sexual relations–but rather, he says, you are to give thanks.
Now think about that. That's an interesting thing. What do you mean? I'm not to be sexually immoral or sexually vulgar, but I am to give thanks. What does that parallel? That's not the parallel that I was expecting.
Well, you see what the Apostle Paul is saying. The Apostle Paul is saying this: ‘Christian, as a motivation to your holiness here, understand what I'm saying to you when you have that urge to follow through on sexual immorality. I'm not saying to you ‘Christian, you need to set aside that desire for sexual fulfillment, and instead hope for heaven.’ Now understand me: The Apostle Paul does want you to hope for heaven! He wants you to have the reward of heaven, but that is not what he says here. He says instead of that improper, illicit, illegal, unethical, unbiblical, immoral sexual fulfillment that you want…instead, you need to give thanks for sexual relations as they are expressed in the one proper relationship in which they are to be expressed, which is a committed monogamous heterosexual marriage.
Isn't it sad that we have to say that today? You know, used to be, that a Christian man sat his son down and said, “Now, son, when you start looking for a wife, the first thing you need to look for is a godly Christian woman.” And that's still good advice to give to a young man. But now you have to sit him down and say, “Now, son, the first thing that you should look for when you’re looking for a wife is a woman!” And you have to say to your daughters, “Honey, when you start looking for a Christian husband…big point, here: Make sure you look for a man!” Unfortunately we have to say that in our world today.
And the Apostle Paul is not saying ‘Christians, put aside your desire for sexual fulfillment, and hope for heaven instead.’ He's saying ‘Christians, temptation says to you that there is no joy like this unethical, immoral sexual fulfillment that you could experience in this relationship.’ And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Uh-uh. Not even close to the joy that can be experienced in the context of a committed, monogamous, heterosexual marital relationship. That's where it's meant for. God built the stuff, He knows how it works. Give thanks for it. You are to have esteem for this gift that God has given.’
That's why I kept saying last week we're in a fight for joy. This is not about Christians snuffing out desire for fulfillment. It's Christians realizing that fulfillment and satisfaction and joy can only really happen in the places and the way that God says they can.
So that's an argument that the Apostle Paul is giving us there to refrain from sexual immorality, and the argument is not ‘Sorry, guys, you’re going to have to give up on sexual fulfillment. Just hope for heaven instead.’ The argument is ‘No, no, no! Give thanks for this gift, and realize that the realization of the joy intended from it is only found in experiencing it in the way that God commands us to experience it.’
But that's not the only argument that Paul gives us to fight against sexual immorality. If we were to turn to I Corinthians 6:12-20, we would see him give an argument against sexual immorality in Christians derived from the doctrine of the Trinity.
You know, a lot of you think that the doctrine of the Trinity is the most speculative, mysterious, non-understandable thing you've ever heard of: ‘It's irrelevant, it's impractical; couldn't we move on to something that really matters in my daily life?’
The Apostle Paul makes an argument for sexual purity from the doctrine of the Trinity, and the argument goes like this:
God the Father made you. There's a little name tag on the back of your neck that says “Made by God” just like things that you buy that say “Made in China.” Well, it says “Made by God.” In other words, Paul is saying your body was made by God the Father.
Secondly, then he says ‘And that body of yours, it belongs to Jesus Christ. It is, in fact, a part of Jesus’ body.’ So just like those little tags that you have on your duffle bag in the locker room that say “Property of Ligon Duncan”, it says “Property of Jesus Christ.” Belongs to Him.
And then he argues that your body is actually indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In other words, he's saying that just as the tabernacle and the temple were that place in which God visibly manifested His nearness and presence and blessing to His people in the Old Testament, in the new covenant God has made you, not only collectively but individually, to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. What an awesome thing that would have been to early Christian believers who understood the theology of the temple and the tabernacle here.
You know, many of us resonated. There was a former President of the United States who said he had such reverence for the Oval Office. He said that room, that office, that is the room of the people of this great nation. And therefore he made it a point that he would never, ever enter into the Oval Office in the White House without a jacket and a tie on. He said ‘I just can't go there….’ It didn't matter whether it was day or night, whether he was there with officials or alone. Whenever he was there, he was going to be there in his coat and in his tie, out of respect and reverence for what that room represented to our nation.
And then some of us know of another President of the United States who made that a place where he had the opportunity to carry out his illicit, illegal, immoral sexual desires. And we are repelled by that very thought. We resonate with the reverence of that one President, and we are repulsed by the immorality of that other President, especially in that place which is such a symbol of our nation.
And here's the Apostle Paul saying something greater: Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; don't use that body for immorality. Well, you see what he's doing. He's piling up motivations, arguments, so that you can fight that fight.
Young person, college student, high school student, graduate student, person who's engaged, person who's not engaged, person who's married, person who's recently separated…doesn't matter. There are 10,000 different ways that we can be tempted in this area, and the Apostle Paul is piling on the arguments for us to be able to resist.
Now, that's the Introduction!
Let's pray and read God's word.
Lord God, this is Your word, and it's so serious. We need to hear it. Speak to us, we beg You. Speak to us by Your Spirit, and grant that we would respond as we ought to Your words, realizing that they are not man's words: they’re the very words of God. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's word:
“For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an 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. Therefore do not be partakers with them.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
I. No unrepentant sexually immoral person has the rewards/blessings of the kingdom (5)
The Apostle Paul in this passage baldly, bluntly, overwhelmingly says this: No unrepentant sexually immoral person has the blessings or rewards or treasures or inheritance of the kingdom of God in Christ. No unrepentant sexually immoral person has the blessings of the kingdom. Listen to how he says it:
“You know with certainty that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying whatever they claim, those who choose to go flatly against the commandments of God in this area are manifesting the fact that they do not know grace, that they have not experienced the saving, transforming, forgiving, gracious power of the living God. And he is pointing to the fact that this particular sin is peculiarly deadly, because it works deep into the hearts of men and women…of young men and women, of older men and women, of men and women, period…it words deeply into their hearts, and it separates them from the God whom they ought to love and serve because they choose their illicit fulfillment and satisfaction and pleasure over God.
And that is always the choice. God does not give us the choice of ‘You can have Me and you can have that which I hate, and you can have them both at the same time, no problem.’
He says ‘It's Me and that which I love, or it is that which I hate, without Me. That is your choice. But I do not come in the package of Me and that which I hate; Me and, in fact, that which destroys you, because I love you too much. I only come with this package: Me and that which I love, that which is good for you, that which makes you whole, that which gives you real joy. That's the only way you can have Me. And if you decide not to have Me that way, then you have decided that you don't want My kingdom, you don't want My grace, you don't want My joy, you don't want My meaning, you don't want My satisfaction, you don't want My fulfillment. But those are your options.’
And the Apostle Paul is saying to these Christians…isn't it interesting? He's talking to Ephesians, about whom he has already said that they have the inheritance of God through the Holy Spirit, and he's warning them of this deadly sin. Why? Because he knows how insidious it is. He knows how it can work into the hearts of men and women and draw them away from everything that is good, everything that is right, everything that is precious, and just corrupt them.
And you say ‘But David sinned in this way, and God forgave him.’ Yes, he did. In fact, that's going to be one of my points. I don't know whether it will be this week or next week, but it's going to be one of my points that I want you to see what it cost David. David's sin in this precise area led to the destruction of Israel, friends! Do you understand how cataclysmic that sin was? David's sin in this area led to the destruction of Israel. Not only was it a pox on him and led to the death of a child and a fractured household in which there was never the fullness of love that there ought to have been, but the very land that he loved the most, the people that he loved the most, were fractured because of this sin. Do not make light of it! Yes, God in His mercy and grace saved David out of it. Yes, but at what a price!
And the Apostle Paul is saying that there is a peculiar power in this sin.
Now let me tell you what the Apostle Paul is not saying. That's probably all we have time for today.
The Apostle Paul is not saying faith plus sexual purity equals salvation. He is not saying faith plus your good works in avoiding sexual immorality and in being sexually pure will get you into the kingdom and keep you there. He is not saying faith plus works equals salvation. That is not what the Apostle Paul is saying. In fact, the New Testament never says that.
You say, well, what about James? James says faith without works is dead. Doesn't that mean that faith plus works equals salvation? No! Listen to what James says. Follow his math: Faith minus works equals–not ‘no salvation’–but what? No faith. He's telling you that a faith that is accompanied by a life that continues without any display of true repentance, without any display of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, shows that the person–what?–never had faith in the first place. He's not saying faith plus works equals salvation. He's trying to show you a way in which you can uncover a claimed faith and distinguish it from a real faith.
So Paul's point, by the way, is the same here. It is not that faith plus you being good equals you being saved. Instead he is saying that immorality, unrepented of in this area, uncovers a heart that does not know God's grace, and there is a certain judgment that is awaiting that sin. And as dangerous as that sin is, my friends, I want you to understand that in the end it will be not the sin but the unrepentance of it that is the undoing of the sinner. You know, there are people in this room today, in this room today, whom I love dearly, who have stumbled in precisely this area, and by the grace of God through many trials of the heart, they have repented, they have come back, they love the Lord, they are serving Him. But let me tell you: They are not flippant about this sin.
The Apostle Paul is not saying what he is saying here today to upset them, to unsettle their hearts, to bruise those already bruised reeds or to extinguish those already smoldering flaxes. He is saying this to the person who thinks that they can just go right down their merry way in this direction with no consequences, and he is saying this: ‘You go there, and you’re going to find yourself one day standing before a throne, and you’re going to find yourself standing there before the throne with the people who decided to go the way of fulfilling their desires and getting their joy and their meaning and their satisfaction in the way that I said that I hate, because it destroys them, and you’re not going to find yourself standing there with a multitude of people who recognize their own weakness and their own sin, and struggled with it and wrestled with it all their life, but who longed more than anything else for the forgiveness and relationship that comes with God through Jesus Christ, and have cast themselves on His mercy and His grace, and by His grace they came to desire Him more than anything else. And you are going to find yourself condemned. The Apostle Paul says ‘Christian, I love you too much to see you there. I beg you, don't…don't go there.’
I'm already way overtime. Come back next week.
Our Lord and our God, we see so many, so many, stumble right at this point. You’re so kind to tell us, to warn us about it ahead of time in Your word. This one is so insidious, and so many of us are helpless. Save us, spare us, hear us. Show us what's happening in our hearts, and give us a desire for something else. We beg you in Jesus' name. Amen.