September 9, 2018
One Race – Walk the Walk
Pastor Alan Smith
When I was a little boy, we used to make pillow forts and blanket forts in our house all the time. We would rob the cushions from the couch, and we would build them up. We would grab the blankets off the beds and from the closet. Sometimes we would grab the ones that mom said, “You’re not supposed to use those!” We’d grab them anyway; we’d make the fort. It was fun! My mom babysat a lot of children. We always had three, four, or five children in our home who weren’t ours but that were there all day. Occasionally, when we would make these forts, we would put little hand-written notes on the outside of the fort that said, “Keep Out!” or “Enter at your own risk!” Occasionally, we would say, “No girls allowed!” I love making forts! As you get a little older, the complexity of the fort changes. Instead of being made out of sheets and cushions, they are made out of wood and are in a tree. Now you have a treehouse or tree fort. Sometimes you put on the outside “No girls allowed!” We create these places that we block off and mark off as children. This was something that we would do to make our little places.
The challenge for us to be mindful of is that as we grow to be adults, sometimes we still build these little borders, boundaries, and places that keep people out and say, “You are not welcome.” For the last several weeks as a church, we have had some courageous conversations about racism, culture, ethnicity, and diversity. In preparing for that, the pastors spent a lot of time in prayers and discussion on providing what we believe is a biblical definition, a biblical explanation, a biblical framework for us to have conversations about race, ethnicity, and cultures. It is important for us, if we are going to have Gospel-centric conversations about race, culture, and diversity, that we all have a common biblical understanding of what that means. A document that we put together from the pastors is an important starting point for those conversations.
For the last several weeks we have been talking about one race – unified, diversified, and glorified. When we started this series, Pastor Jeff introduced us to the reality that God created us in his image, and he created us to have fellowship with him, but sin separated us. Since we’ve had sin in our life, we have had eternal separation from God, and we’ve had separation from one another. If you think of the Garden of Eden, as soon as Adam and Eve took the fruit and ate it, they were immediately separated from God. But they then went and hid themselves from one another. Sin brings separation. If you only remember one thing that we talk about today, this is what I want you to remember:
Walk the walk, or just be quiet.
It is imperative for you and me as Christians, as believers and followers of Christ to understand what the walk is and how that is to play out.
The result of sin was that it affected the way we think; it affected the things that we want, and it affects our flesh completely. Sin causes us to think in certain ways. We want to put divisions, boundaries, and dividers to create separation. We want to cause these things to come between us because that’s what sin wants to do. It likes to use words like “us” and “them”. Sin leads to division, segregation, separation, and disunity. Those of us who believe that Christ is our Savior, we’ve made a profession of faith. We’ve placed our trust in him and submitted to him as the Lord of our life. He has provided us with a Spirit that dwells within us. The Spirit has the ability to overcome the flesh. So, when the flesh wants us to do one thing, the Spirit gives us power to do something different. We have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit in our life as believers, which means we are not subject to have to do the things that the flesh wants to do.
As we get into our study today, we’re going to be in Ephesians in which Paul wrote to the church in Asia. This was one of those books that when you read it, you passed it on to the next church. In order to provide useful context, let me give you a little bit of historical information. In the culture that this book was written in, there was intense animosity between Jews and Gentiles. As a matter of fact, as far as the Jews were concerned, anybody who wasn’t a Jew was a Greek word ethnos (or ethnic people). In other words, you’re not one of God’s people; you’re one of them.
In Jewish culture, there was an immense contempt for Gentiles. They said that the Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. However, the Jews, God created and loved over all the other nations. They were made, but Gentiles were nothing more than fuel for hell. During this time period, if you were a Jew and a Gentile woman was about to give birth, it was unlawful for you to assist in the delivery of this child because you were not supposed to help bring another one of those into the world. If a Jew married a Gentile, the family of the Jew would have a funeral because that person was dead to them. In the culture in which this book is written and in the culture in which Paul teaches us the important lessons that we’re going to learn about walking the walk, there was such an animosity and hostility between these two groups of people. Jews looked at Gentiles and said, “You are worth nothing. You should go to hell. That’s why God created hell. -for you to go and burn. God loves us. He hates you.” It is in this context and historical culture that Paul writes the book of Ephesians.
What do the Gospels say about racism and diversity? What does the Gospel compel us to do? How do we as followers of the King engage our culture with the Gospel to change our culture? Paul wrote this letter to all the churches in Asia. They would read it and pass it along. This book of Ephesians is important, and it is divided into two basic sections. Chapters one, two, and three of Ephesians are nothing but theology. Paul paints for us a picture of what the Gospel is, what Jesus has done, what salvation means, how we get saved, and what the process of redemption is from God’s point of view. It is theological. The second half of the book is application. The second half of Ephesians is, if this theology that I’ve just described to you is accurate, therefore do this in chapters four, five, and six. This is where we get the wonderful verse that we parents like to quote to our children, “Children obey your parents in the Lord,” in Ephesians six. This is where we get “Husbands, love your wives, and wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord.” This where we get these application things in Ephesians four, five, and six, but they follow the theology. We lay a foundation on biblical principle, and then on those biblical principles, we build application. How does that translate into what I do on Tuesday at the office? That’s the second half of the book of Ephesians. Today we’re going to take a short look at the theology and the application that we could learn from Ephesians.
I. Grace through Faith
As I read this Scripture, I want you to observe something. I want you to pay special attention to the subjects of the sentence.
Ephesians 2:1-5 (CSB)
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air,the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!
Notice the subject in verse one is you. Paul is writing this to a Gentile congregation in a Gentile culture. The church members of this congregation were mostly Jewish, but he’s writing it to a Gentile culture. There are Jews and Gentiles in this church together. Paul, a Jew of Jews, is using the language that says, “You were dead in your trespasses and sin in which you previously lived.” Now, I can imagine that as the person got up to read, when they got to this chapter, the Jews in the audience were elbowing and saying, “You’ve got that right. Yes, they are! They’re dead in their trespasses and sin because they deserve hell, and we get to go to glory.” Then all of a sudden Paul flips the switch. Who is the subject in verse three? -We. I can imagine now that the Jews are going, “Whoa, wait a minute Paul. What do you mean we?! Don’t you know that culturally it’s they and not us? They’re the ones who deserve hell, not us. We’ve got God. We’ve got the wall. What do you mean, we?” Paul is using “us and them” language for a purpose, He is drawing our attention to this natural division that exists in people as a result of sin.
Before Christ, we were all subject to the ways of the world carrying out the inclinations of our flesh, carrying off the ideas of our thoughts. We were by nature, children of wrath. This is the life before Christ. We’re subject to these things. We follow our fleshly desires, and we act on the very thoughts that we think, and we do them in the way that is sinful. This was before Christ. This is the result of sin. The flesh is that part of our nature that gives sin a way into our lives. The flesh is the point of attack the devil likes because the flesh wants to rebel against the things of God. But grace is how he ends this. We’re saved by grace. Grace is good. Grace is awesome! Grace is getting something you don’t deserve; that’s what grace is. Grace is saying, “I know you deserve hell. I know that you’re a sinner, and the best place for you is hell; that’s what you deserve, but God says, ‘You know, I’d like to give them something different. I love them, and I’m going to give them something that they don’t even deserve. Not only don’t they deserve it; they don’t even know to ask for it. If it wasn’t for what I’m doing, they would just continue in this sin, but I want to give them something amazing, and it’s called grace. I’ve got something for you. I’m going to give you something that will blow your mind. It will open a door for you that you can’t even comprehend.’” Grace is something you don’t deserve and yet God, in his love, gave it to us anyway. Grace is a wonderful thing. Salvation, the opportunity to experience grace, is a gift of God. We receive that gift through faith. It transforms us. It is the work of Christ in us. It is he who equips us.
If you continue reading through chapter two, you’ll find around verse nine, that he says that he equips us to do good works. “Grace, you don’t deserve it, but I want to give it to you anyway. Now that I’ve given it to you, I’ve got something for you to do.” Grace is a wonderful thing. When we understand what grace is and understand the work of God and what he has done in our life and through his work, then we can grow and have an understanding of unity in diversity.
II. Unity in Diversity
14 For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In his flesh, 15 he made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death.
Jesus is God’s instrument of reconciliation. He brings people back into fellowship with God that was broken because of Adam’s sin. Sin separated us from God; reconciliation is the bringing of that back together. Reconciliation is the bringing together of two hostile groups who do not like one another, who prefer that they do not hang out with one another, and who would prefer that the other person or the other group would just go away. -Two groups God has brought into a single group of peace. Two hostile groups have come together as one group in peace. That is unity through diversity through the work of Jesus. Notice he’s not saying uniformity through the work of Jesus. It’s not about uniformity. In other words, it’s not that all Christians should be the same. There is diversity in unity. Two groups or multiple groups who do not like one another, for whatever reason, in Christ come together in peace and at the cross because of grace. There is room for a lot of diverse groups (multicultural, multiracial), plenty of diversity at the foot of the cross, because it is grace that has brought you there in the first place.
You didn’t deserve it. God says, “I want to give it to you. Come partake in grace.” But when you come and partake in grace, the hostility that exists between the two is also covered with grace. The hostility between the two has to go away because of a peace that comes because of grace. At the cross, there’s room for Democrats and Republicans. You could be a good old Democrat and a good old Republican and still come together in unity with one another through peace. You can wear Nikes. You can agree or not agree with Kaepernick. You can kneel or not kneel at the flag. We can still come together in peace because of the Gospel. When we allow things in this world of this age to bring division between his people, we’re sinning. There’s reconciliation that takes place because of grace. Grace is what brings hostile groups together, but grace also destroys the hostility.
God is not calling for groups to be the same. He wants people who are different, who look different, who walk different, and who have different cultures. He breeds diversity. It is in his very nature. Think about who God is. We believe that God is one. Yet God is composed of Father, Son, and Spirit, and each of those is a very distinct and different being. The Son, who submits to the Father and has a different role, becomes flesh and dwells among us. God the Father is Spirit. There’s diversity in the God-head. God is not calling the church to come together as homogeneous and to be homogeneous with one another in uniformity. God is calling the church to come together in diversity. The two groups become one in unity. This is the result of grace. Grace destroys the barriers that divide us.
The temple where Paul was writing this book was divided up into in courts that you could go into, depending on who you were. If you’re a priest, you go into the innermost court. If you were a good Jewish male, you go into the next one. If you were a Jewish woman, you would go into the next one. Then there was an outer court that was for the Gentiles. Surrounding this outer area was a wall, and spaced every so many feet around this wall was a sign. In 1871, one of these signs was discovered in archaeology. On the sign was written in Hebrew and in Greek the following inscription: Let no one of any other nation come within the fence and barrier around the holy place. Whosoever doing so will himself be responsible for the fact that his death will be insured.
Wrap your brain around this for a moment. At the temple, in the place of worship, the Jews had created a division between the Jews and the non-Jews and said, “Hey, if you come across this line right here, you’re going to die. You’re taking your life into your own hands.” In Acts chapter nineteen, Paul is falsely accused of doing that. He was accused of bringing some guy from Ephesus to the temple and accused falsely of bringing him past that wall. They wanted to kill him. As a matter of fact, that’s why he ended up in Rome.
The Gospel breaks this thing, destroys this thing, and tears down these walls. When you have two people at odds with one another or two groups at odds with one another, a legal solution doesn’t bring peace. It brings resolution. At least we’re not fighting anymore, but two people at odds with one another who come together in peace are brought together by a common person who loves them both. Christ brings you and your enemy, you and that other group, you and that other person together. He brings you both together because he loves you, and he loves them. He wants you to come together in peace.
In 2017 at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, there was a neo-Nazi guy there by the name of Ken Parker. Parker was a neo-Nazi because he was a grand dragon of the KKK, and he thought the KKK wasn’t racist enough. Parker was at Charlottesville. It was a hot day; they all dressed in black, and he was getting dehydrated. In the course of his day he had some people who looked different from him show him kindness. It got Parker thinking, What’s the deal?
When he gets back home, he and his fiancé go outside near to the pool. They notice there are some people in the corner barbecuing, and they’re all African American. He decided to go over and talk to them. He was talking to the guy at the grill, not knowing he was a local pastor. Pastor McKinnon says, “Hey man, why don’t you come to church with us?” Parker went to church on Easter. As McKinnon continues to demonstrate love and grace to Parker, Parker recognizes his need for Jesus. Parker gets saved and baptized in the Atlantic. This white neo-Nazi who has become a Christian because of love, gets baptized by two African American pastors. Grace, grace destroys hostility.
The Gospel is given to us as a new life. It tears down the walls of division. It causes the ideas of separation, of segregation, to be done away with. It is our responsibility to be people of reconciliation, which means we need to walk the walk.
III. Walk the Walk
So now we get to Ephesians chapter four where we have the word therefore, which one of my favorite words in the Bible. Therefore means all that stuff we learned ahead of time is there to help us understand what we’re going to do next.
1 Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Because of the work of Jesus in the Gospel, we’re urged and we’re called to walked in a way that is worthy of the grace that we have received. We’re called to live a life that is worthy of the reconciliation that God has made for us. God sent Jesus as his instrument of reconciliation. Now Jesus is sending us as his instrument of reconciliation. The church is the instrument of reconciliation. It is the instrument by which God has designed for his people to come together in unity through grace in the bonds of peace.
Did you notice the four virtues that were mentioned? The first is humility. Interestingly enough, humility is a word that was coined by Paul and Christians. In the Greco-Roman world, humbleness was not a virtue. In the Roman world the goal was to excel, to continue to grow better, to continue to improve, to continue to get better than those around you. But because of what Christ did, he turned the culture up on its head. Paul now helps us understand humility is a virtue. Humility expresses itself by having a correct assessment of who we are in light of who Christ is. When I have a correct assessment of who I am in light of who Jesus is, I live humbly.
Gentleness. The best way I could think of to describe gentleness is like an incredibly well-trained dog. He’s gentle in the sense that he understands his commands come from the master. That well-trained dog only does what the master tells him to do. A well-trained dog will sit in a place and starve until the master says, “You can go.” A well-trained dog will attack when the master says, “Be angry.” And, a well-trained dog will sit docile if the master says, “Hold your peace.” Gentleness is recognition that we’re controlled by God and we allow our flesh to be submitted to his authority. We’re angry at the right times, and we’re never angry at the wrong times, because we’re gentle.
Patience is the spirit of having the right and the power to retaliate and not retaliating. With patience, you have the right to retaliate; they have wronged you, but you don’t. Patience is a virtue because the Bible says, “I will repay, says the Lord.” Can you be patient in the Lord?
Love is a virtue that only seeks the highest good for others. Agape love is the word that is used here. It is the kind of love that says, “I want to do something for you because I love you without seeking anything in return. I want what’s best for you, not what’s best for me.”
Paul uses incredibly strong language as he describes this. “I urge you!” We have the responsibility as believers who have received grace, who are instruments of reconciliation, to walk the walk or just stop talking. I urge you, with all that is in me, to walk the walk that is worthy of the calling of the grace that has been given to you, or stop talking. For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth will speak. When we talk and when we say and do things that are divisive, it says what’s in our hearts. Walk in a manner that is worthy of the grace that you have received and that is worthy of the sacrifice that Christ has made. Walk worthy. I urge you as much as is possible within you, to do right or stop talking.
- Based on Ephesians 2, what is the Gospel?
- What are ways we have divisions and segregation between people of different culture in our world today? Why do they continue to persist in our culture?
- What are ways we can bring about reconciliation? Why is this important?
- Explain what Paul means by “live worthy of the calling you received . . . “ in Ephesians 4:1.
- In Ephesians 4:2, Paul identifies four virtues that are evidence of the person walking worthy. Explain these virtues and identify how they are being displayed in your life.
- Unity through diversity is central in the Gospel. Describe unity through diversity expressed in the Godhead.
- Explain how a believer can build unity across diverse cultures and ethnicity.