The Lord's Day Morning
June 18, 2006
“The New Walk (2): 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 our way through this book.
Let me just remind you that in Ephesians 4:17ff, the Apostle Paul begins a section of the book which we've been studying for a number of weeks, where he exhorts us to live distinctly as Christians, to be different from the world. And he says this is important for our unity, for the enhancement of the fellowship of the body of Christ, and it's important for our witness to the glory of God in the world.
Beginning in Ephesians 4:25 and running all the way to Ephesians 5:4, Paul gives six specific answers, or examples, of areas in which we are to live distinctively as Christians. The Apostle Paul is not satisfied with giving some sort of a general exhortation to live as Christians. He wants to give us specific examples about how he wants us to live as Christians, how God wants us to be distinct and to manifest the unity of the body in our uniqueness as followers of Jesus Christ. And we've been studying those six specific examples for a number of weeks.
The last couple of weeks we have looked at Ephesians 5:3,4; and then last week, we looked at Ephesians 5:5, and one of the things we noticed — even though we have said that Ephesians 5:5 begins a new section of the book — is that the topic of Ephesians 5:3-4, the end of those six examples, and the topic of Ephesians 5:5, the first verse of this new section, continue on the same subject; that is, the subject of sexual immorality, and Christians not engaging in sexual immorality, but rather manifesting sexual purity and sexual fidelity.
The subject is the same, but the focus has slightly changed, and let me explain very briefly that focus. The Apostle Paul has moved from giving us examples for areas in which he wants us to manifest our distinctiveness as Christians in the context of this world to the subject of motivations — why it is that we ought as Christians to live distinctively in this world. And we're so thankful for that. The Apostle Paul doesn't just say to us, “Stop sinning.” He actually gives us arguments to use with ourselves in the fight against sin, because he knows that Christians continue to have battles in the area of our desires. There are times when the desires of the flesh, fleshly desires, overwhelm us in temptation and we give in to those fleshly desires, and the Apostle Paul is concerned to arm us with arguments to fight against those desires.
In this passage, he's actually going to give us four motivations, four incentives, four reasons, four arguments to use with ourselves as we attempt to live the Christian life distinctively in this world, and the first of those incentives we're going to study today, in Ephesians 5:5-7.
Now let's look to God in prayer as we prepare to read and hear His word.
Lord, this is Your word, and we honor You and bless You for giving us this word. But we also recognize that our hearts are exceedingly wicked and are capable of deflecting the truth of Your word, so we ask that by Your Spirit You would illumine our heart, that You would search us out to see if there is any unclean thing in us in those areas of our heart which we are trying to protect from Your sovereign lordship. We pray that You would seek us out there, and find us, and drag those parts of our heart out into the light of Your word, so that we would see ourselves as we are, and we would see our need for forgiveness, having seen our sin, and would see Your grace held out to us in Jesus Christ, and would respond. We ask that You would help us now as we consider this Your word, in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the word of God:
“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.
Motivations are important. Businessmen know this; that's why employers are interested in providing a setting in which there are incentives for effective labor. Workers are productive not only when they enjoy what they’re doing and they’re good at what they’re doing, but when they realize that there are reasons for which they ought to perform excellently and to work hard.
I had a roommate at the University of Edinburgh my first year who was a Brazilian agro-economics major, and his name was Julio Velozo, and he was very Brazilian…he would be rejoicing during World Cup time, I assure you, right now! But we would often talk about economic systems, and the strengths and weaknesses and the deficiencies and excellencies of different systems. And at one point we were having a conversation about some particular form of communism or socialism, and I asked Joui, I said, “Joui, why is it that that system doesn't work?” And he said it like this — he said, “Ligon, no motivation!” And by that he meant that there was absolutely in that system that we were discussing at that time no motivation for a person to work hard or work excellently, because in that particular system if you worked without excellence, and if you were slovenly in your work and you were lazy in your work, you were given the same rewards as a person who worked hard and with excellence; and, therefore, he said, there was no motivation in that economic system for anyone to do anything with excellence, and to work hard.
Well, our heavenly Father knows how we work as Christians, and He is kind to give us motivations to live the Christian life, and the Apostle Paul is giving us motivations here. And in this passage in Ephesians 5:5, all the way down to verse 21, he's going to pile on motivations for living the Christian life.
Now, we said last week these are not the only motivations of the Christian life, and we also said that the grace motivation underlies everything in the Christian life – our realization that our heavenly Father has saved us by grace alone, that He has not saved us by saying ‘OK, look, buddy, you earn salvation. You be obedient enough to be My child, and I’ll make you My child.’ No, in fact He has saved us by His grace. He has said ‘I will save you by the blood of My Son, not by your own merits, not by your own works, not by your own deserving, not by your own inherent worthiness. I will save you by My grace. I will be the One who will save you.’ That realization informs everything that we do in the Christian life, because everything that we do in the Christian life is a grateful response to a God who has saved us not on the basis of our performance, but on the basis of His love and the provision of the sacrifice of His Son, and that underlies and informs everything in the Christian life. We can never get away from that.
But it is interesting that that is not the only motivation that is given in the New Testament for how we are to live the Christian life, or why we are to live the Christian life. In fact, the Apostle Paul in this very passage will never explicitly mention that motivation, although he has already implicitly mentioned that motivation in chapter two.
And so I want us to look at the motivation that the Apostle Paul is speaking of in verses 5-7, because it may surprise you. The Apostle Paul says that for Christians who have been saved by grace, the anticipation of the final judgment is a motivation to us to be sexually pure and faithful. Now, this motivation applies to all the things that the Apostle Paul has been speaking about in Ephesians 4:25-5:4, but he's especially applying this here to the area of sexual immorality, and he's saying that the Christian is motivated to sexual morality, sexual purity, and sexual fidelity because of the realization that there will be a final judgment in which God condemns those who are unrepentant in their sexual immorality.
And we may think, ‘Boy! That should be left to backwoods, uneducated, unsophisticated, fire and brimstone preachers somewhere!’ But this is the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saying ‘Christian, I want to take you to a scene, and that scene is the great assize. It is the final judgment. It is the place where God, the Judge and Lord of heaven and earth, hands out His assessment of every man and woman that has ever lived. And I want that scene to be in your mind as you grapple with the issue of sexual purity and morality and fidelity.’
And I want us to see three things in this passage.
First of all, I want us to see that Paul says that every Christian knows that God is going to condemn unrepentant sexually immoral people. Every Christian knows that.
Secondly, I want you to see that the Apostle Paul also knows that there will be many people, including religious leaders and even Christian religious leaders, that say ‘Aw, come on now! God is a God of love. He's not going to condemn anybody!’ The Apostle Paul knew that 2,000 years ago – that there were going to be people that were saying that: ‘Come on! You Christians are too hung up about sexual morality. Live a little! It's not that big a deal. God is a big-hearted God; He's not going to condemn anybody.’ The Apostle Paul says ‘No, no. Don't you think that what I am telling you is not true.’
And then, finally, in verse 7, the Apostle Paul urges us not to become partners, not to become partakers of this way of living, of these practices, of these desires, with unbelievers around us.
Let's look, then, at this great passage together.
The first thing that Paul says, you see in verse 5:
“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.”
I. No unrepentant sexually immoral person has the rewards/blessings of the kingdom (5)
Now, what is it that the Apostle Paul says that every Christian knows? Paul says that every Christian knows that no one who lives a life of unrepentant sexual immorality is a citizen of God's kingdom. Every Christian knows that no one who lives a life of unrepentant sexual immorality is a part of the true church. Every Christian knows that no one who lives a life of unrepentant sexual immorality has the gift of salvation, is a recipient of God's kingdom blessings. That's what the Apostle Paul is saying: that whatever they claim, those who live an unrepentant, immoral life show that they are not a part of the kingdom of grace.
Now those are hard words. What do they mean? Well, let's let Scripture interpret Scripture. Let me ask you to look at six verses this afternoon. We’re going to look at two of them right now, but let me ask you to look at six passages this afternoon. Look at I Corinthians 6:9-10; look at Galatians 5:19-21 [we're going to look at those two passages right now]; but also look at Colossians 3:5; Hebrews 13:4; Revelation 21:8; and Revelation 22:5. [And if you've forgotten those verses or didn't get them down, they’re already on the website. You can just pull up the Pastor's Blog, and they’re there.]
But let me point you to I Corinthians 6:9-10. Just turn back a few pages from Ephesians, if you’re already there. Turn back to I Corinthians 6. The Apostle Paul does something interesting when he's talking about this subject, and he talks about it a lot; in the language of this passage, he talks about it at least four times in his writing, so it's on his mind. The Apostle Paul always connects three things: sexual immorality; idolatry; and the judgment of God…excluding those who are unrepentant in their sexual immorality from His kingdom. He always connects those three things. Let me give you an example of that – I Corinthians 6:9-10:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? [Have you heard that phrase before?] Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, not idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”
There's that language again: sexual immorality…idolatry…will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Now why is that so important? For the Apostle Paul, sexual immorality is an ultimate expression of idolatry. It is an ultimate expression of will-worship, of self-worship, of worship of our own desires. Paul says that God has given us the gift of sex to enjoy, to revel in, to delight in to the fullest, in the context of a permanent, committed, monogamous, heterosexual, marital relationship. And outside of that, any expression of our desires in the realm of sexual relations is wrong, not because God has a hang-up about sex [He invented it!], but because He has ordained that our enjoyment of that gift is to be in the context of a relationship in which a man is committed to a woman to provide for her, and only in that context; and any experience of it outside of that, on the part of a man or on the part of a woman, is wrong. Thus, when we decide that we're going to go ahead and do it anyway, we are worshiping our desires instead of worshiping God.
In other words, we're committing idolatry, and the Apostle Paul knows that that is an exceedingly, , exceedingly dangerous sin, precisely because of the power of sexual desires when they break out of the framework in which God has meant them to operate. They can become so powerful that they overthrow our love for God, they overthrow our love for all that is good and noble, they overthrow our love for our own family; and they can destroy us, they can destroy our family, and they can destroy our love for God when they transgress the bounds which God has established for our sexual desires.
Now notice that Paul says in Galatians. Turn forward to Galatians, right between Corinthians and Ephesians…Galatians 5:19. Notice again how he puts this:
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings, drunkenness, carousings, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
And notice again: Immorality…idolatry…will not inherit the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul is brutally consistent on this, because he knows that sexual infidelity, sexual immorality, puts a hook in our heart that draws us away from God, enables us to worship ourselves and our desires instead of worship Him, and they are sins that are so powerful that sometimes we never extract ourselves from them.
You know, those of you who are my age and older remember a pop/jazz song that was very sophisticated and urbane and laid back, by Billy Paul, called Me and Mrs. Jones:
“Me and Mrs. Jones, we got a thing going on.
We both know that it's wrong,
But it's much too strong
To let it go now.”
Or maybe you remember If Loving You is Wrong, I Don't Want to be Right. There are hundreds of songs just like that.
Now, let me stop and compliment them for a minute. At least, 25 years ago they still knew it was wrong! Today, “wrong” is just out the window in the lyrical content of the pop world, OK? But 25 years ago, at least they knew that it was wrong. But notice the perfect illustration of what the Apostle Paul is saying: Billy Paul is ready to say ‘I know that this is wrong, but I'm going to do it anyway.’ And the Apostle Paul says that is a hook that is connected directly to the deepest pit of hell. It is a hook that you must never, ever, think ‘I can do this, and I can get out of this.’
You know, if you’re a young person and you’re saying ‘You know, I know this is wrong, but, boy! do I want to do this right now! And I’ll do it, and then I’ll be repentant about it later,’ you may not be able to be repentant about it later. You say ‘Oh, I know I can't go all the way, but I can get pretty close, and that doesn't count.’ Don't think that you can let the hook get in, and that you can get out of it.
Or maybe you’re a husband, and you’re thinking ‘It's so bad in my marriage; Ligon, you don't know how bad it's been. She yells at me; she doesn't respect me. It's like a war zone when I walk in the house. And I'm at this bar tonight, this lady thinks I'm pretty smart and pretty good looking, and nobody's around, and I'm hundreds of miles from Jackson. And what could it hurt? Just one night?’
Or you’re saying to me ‘But you don't know my husband! You do not! He has not connected to me emotionally from the day that we said ‘I do.’ And now there's this man, and he listens to me, and he talks…I don't have to yell at him to get him to talk to me. And I just feel so drawn to him.’
Or maybe you’re saying to me, “But, look — I feel attracted to a person of the opposite sex.” Or whatever you’re going to say to me today! But the Apostle Paul is saying please know for certain that there is going to be nobody…nobody!…nobody!…who stands before the judgment throne of God on the last day and says ‘O God, I worship me. I worshiped my desires. I transgressed Your commands sexually; and I worship You, too.’ In that set there is going to be nobody — not one!
Does that mean that if you've ever fallen in this area you can “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”? That you’re done for? No. No, it doesn't. Because this room is literally filled with dear people that I love who have fallen precisely in this area. But let me tell you something: they have come under conviction. They have gone through the process of repentance, and it has cost them dear. And they have been restored to the joy of their salvation, and in many cases their relationships with their husband or wife or future spouse has been restored, and they are walking with Christ and they are faithful in this area. But there is no one who sins in this area without repentance, without remorse, without regret, who continues on, who lives a life of immorality in this area, who also at the same time loves and trusts in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel. They do not exist.
You hear what the Apostle Paul is saying: There is no one who trusts in Christ alone for salvation who also continues to live a life characterized by not trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel. That set is empty! No one is in it! The Apostle Paul is not saying that you’re saved by faith plus your faithfulness. He's not saying that you’re saved by faith plus your works. He's not saying that you’re saved by faith plus your obedience (you've got to trust in Christ and you've got to be sexually obedient). What he's saying is there is nobody who trusts in Jesus Christ [faith in Christ] who is not also being sanctified. He's saying that justification and growth in grace, growth in godliness, are a package deal: they always go together. And you’re never going to find someone before the judgment seat of God who was justified by faith who decided that they would just go right on living a life as if they were a pagan. It doesn't exist.
And so, what the Apostle Paul is wanting us to do, he's saying ‘Come with me for a moment.’ He says ‘I want you to see something. I want you to see the final judgment seat of God, and I want you to notice what is happening to everyone who has decided to live a life of unrepentant sexual immorality of whatever sort: they are all being condemned for their sins.’ And it's so interesting that in the end, as dangerous as the sin is because it draws our heart away–I cannot tell you…especially, men, this is a dangerous sin for us. (It's not just dangerous for us, dear sisters in Christ; it's dangerous for you, too.) But for men, we are particularly vulnerable with this. I cannot tell you how many men that I have seen gone the way of sexual immorality and along with that sexual immorality has gone any trust in God, any following after God, any love for God. It evaporates at the same time. I can't tell you how many times I have seen that. I can't tell you how recently I have seen that. I see it all the time.
But the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Let me show you how people who desire to worship their own passions, who make their own rules, who decide that God's law is wrong in this area for them, and they’re just going to go on their merry way–let me show you how they fare before the judgment seat of God. ‘The verdict,’ he says, ‘is ‘Guilty’ every time. There's not one of them who says ‘I can do this…I can go on and live this way…I can indulge in this behavior. God's going to cut me some slack.’’ There's nobody, he says. He says ‘Let me show you that scene: there's nobody who's going to be acquitted.’ And the Apostle Paul wants us to stand before the judgment throne as we consider the power of this sin to ensnare us.
II. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise (6)
And you see, it's not just the specific sin, is it? It is the unrepentance. As I say, there are so many people here…we can think of David: dear, dear David, the man after God's own heart, a model of Christian living, fell in this area; but he repented.
You see, a Christian who can say ‘I can go on doing this’ — a Christian who does go on doing this — never comes to the conviction and never has the repentance, and there's never the turning, and there's never the forgiveness, and there's never the restoration. The Apostle Paul is begging, he's pleading with you and me and with these Ephesians, don't go there!
For those of you this morning — young people and older people — who haven't gone there…you Christians. The Apostle Paul is wanting to show you that scene, that judgment seat of Christ, so that you won't go there. And for that second group of people — Christians who have been there — they've been there, much to their regret; they've been there. They have come to conviction and repentance and renewed walk with Christ. They've had restoration; they've been forgiven of this sin. They’re saying to you who haven't been there yet ‘Don't go there.’ None of them will make light of it. None of them will be nonchalant about it. They know how deadly it has been. They know how costly it has been. And the Apostle Paul is not showing you, if you’re there, dear Christian, if you’re that restored, repentant Christian who has fallen in this area, he's not showing you that judgment seat to scare you. He's just saying to all of us it's good to be reminded that that judgment seat is there. It's good for us to remember that. And in the fight against this sin, as pernicious, as dangerous as it is, it's good to be reminded that that throne of judgment is there.
But to those of you who are in this sin and you’re not repentant of it–maybe you don't even realize you are unrepentant of it today–the Apostle Paul wants to show you this scene precisely because he loves you. And so, in verse 6, precisely because he loves you, he says look, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Don't let some smooth-talking religious leader, some “Christian” leader come along and assure you, ‘Aw, come on, now! God's not going to condemn anyone for this.’ The Apostle Paul says “Let no one deceive you with empty words.”
It's so interesting…a congregation member came up to me last week after we were looking at this verse, and gave me an article out of the previous day's Clarion Ledger religious section, in which a former Baptist minister was assuring everyone that sexual immorality was OK, and that Christian hang-up's about sex went back to Augustine. Let me introduce you to the Apostle Paul and Ephesians, chapter five! And it's not a hang-up! And here's the Apostle Paul, 2,000 years before that sophisticated ex-Christian minister declared that we've got hang-up's in this area and whatever you want to do in the area of sexual expression is fine, the Apostle Paul is saying don't let anyone come along and tell you otherwise. Do you want to bank your eternal future on God's words or man's words? Do you want to bank your eternal future on what the word of the living God says, or on the opinions of men? The Apostle Paul says don't let anyone tell you otherwise; the wrath of God is very popular to deny. It always has been. The judgment of God is very easy to deny. It always has been, and the Apostle Paul says precisely because I love you, precisely because I love you–don't listen to that.
You know, today…there may well come a day when to read the words of I Corinthians 6:9,10 gets us kicked off of the television here at First Presbyterian Church, because we’ll be accused of hate speech.
Now let me tell you this, my friends: If what the Apostle Paul says is true (and it is), then is it loving to tell someone ‘Go ahead and do what you want in the area of sexual expression — whether it's adultery or fornication, whether it's premarital sex or extramarital sex, whether it's same-sex marriage, whether it's homosexuality, lesbianism, bi-sexuality, whatever — to tell that person that's fine, God's not going to condemn you…and have them stand before the judgment seat of God and face eternity? That is not loving. That is not loving. It is loving instead to say ‘Dear friend, that way is the way of destruction. And because I love you so much, I'm going to tell you.’
III. Don't find yourself under God's searching, condemning judgment with them (7)
The Apostle Paul closes in verse 7 by saying, “Do not be partakers with them.” He doesn't mean don't associate in any way with anybody who's sexually immoral. If that were his command, Christians would have to take a rocket to the moon! He's not saying don't have any contact whatsoever with people who are sexually immoral. We’d have to leave the world. What he is saying is this: Don't become partners with them, don't participate in sexual immorality with them; don't let the way they live influence the way you live, because if you partake of the kind of sexual lifestyle that they are partaking of, you are going to partake of the same judgment that they partake of. And if you partake with them in their sin, unrepentantly, you will partake with them in the judgment.
You know, the interesting thing about this is, this motivation makes sense only to those who know the grace of God. This motivation to be brought before the final judgment makes sense only to those who know the grace of God. Only those who know the grace of God can and will rightly respond to that motivation. We don't resent it.
But those who don't know God's grace, and consequently they don't know their own sin, they hate this motivation. They hate it! They resent it; they see it as mean; they see it as vindictive. If that's where you are today, if you just think that this is manipulation, threats…let me ask you this: Can you live in light of your obituary today, and think about your death and ask yourself, “When all is assessed [and it will be assessed, our contemporaries will assess it], what will have mattered in my life? Will that night, that week, that month, that year, those years, those 10-20-30 years of indulging my own sexual desires outside the bounds of God's commands (whether it was adultery or fornication, or homosexuality, whether it was premarital sex or extramarital sex)…was that now, in light of my whole life, was it worth the relationships that I destroyed? Was it worth the family that I destroyed? The people that I hurt? Was it worth the estrangement from God which I will now have to accept forever? That night, that week, that month, that year, those years…was that worth it, in light of eternity?”
That's what the Apostle Paul is asking you to ask yourself. He's not asking you to ask that because he hates you. He's asking you to ask yourself that because he wants you to be a joint heir with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
May God bless His word.
Lord, we know in this area we need every argument, every reason, every incentive, every motivation that we can get our hands on, because we are bombarded from every side in our culture to indulge ourselves in transgressive behavior. The world applauds us when we do this as brave and heroic. Before the final judgment seat our God will pronounce the sad judgment that ‘You have chosen to destroy yourself in life and forego fellowship with Me in life, and this is the choice that you have made forever.’ O God, grant that by Your grace we would see and remember that judgment seat, and that we would instead trust You and desire You and love You, and not worship ourselves in our immoral sexual desires and our passions, but rather would have more love for Christ. We ask this in His name. Amen.