Category Archives: Character

Walking as Christians

Ephesians 4:1-6 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge IS4086RF-00002343-001you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Have you ever heard a statement like this? – “Jesus and the ideas he talked about sound great, I’m just not so sure about all these Christians.” Ours is a world desperately seeking Truth. Take any social context or issue (marriage, family, crime rates, teenagers being prescribed drugs so they can feel “normal”) and the broken human condition is clear. Any honest search for Truth can only lead to the reality of Jesus, but those who search are often confused by their experience with Christians.

My purpose is not to lay guilt on anyone, but to illustrate the depth of our position, and the purpose of Paul’s writing in Ephesians. He starts by saying, “therefore,” a reference to his earlier point, namely, that Gentiles are equal heirs in the promise of Christ. From this radical statement that surely shocked his audience, Paul then says in 4:1 that the Church is supposed to be a picture of this all-encompassing love.

We are to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” and act with “all humility and gentleness.” When people enter our sphere as co-workers, friends, or neighbors, this is the picture we ought to project. And it’s not a matter of performance, either. Down to the deepest fiber of our being, we need to understand that Jesus chose his Church to represent Him. There is no plan B. Furthermore, the picture we are painting with our lives is one that the world longs to see!

This is not a spectator sport, ladies and gentlemen. Be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit” is no light statement. With diligence, we much each master our impulses , tempers, and die to our Selves a thousand times in order that when others see us interact in congregations, in our homes, and in our different social circles, the cumulative thing they take away is Jesus. And it will require everything we have to give.

———-  After paying close attention to what Paul is calling us to do as Christians, is there anything you need to change about the way you present yourself in front of others as you represent Christ?

 

*This devotion by Jeremy Bunge first appeared in January of 2011

A New Walk

Ephesians 4:17-24  Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,  to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Have you ever had a stellar coach or mentor who always had an encouraging word? That’s what Paul gives us here in verse 17. (As an aside, he does use the word “therefore,” again, referring to his previous statements. We would do well, then, to keep the big picture in mind through this entire chapter – the radical love of Christ and his rescue mission to every religion, and how the Church is supposed to represent that. ) Paul, in affirmation with the Lord, claps us on the shoulder and says, “You have new life! You no longer have to wake up every day feeling lost, like so many others do. Now go reach them with your inner light!”

In verse 18, Paul contrasts the life of Christ with those who walk in futility, “being darkened in their understanding.” The picture here is a room full of dark, thick, inky black smoke. Stumbling and flailing, people who are your neighbors and co-workers attempt to find their way across the room. Is there a window or doorway? Is there even a destination or purpose? We who have the life of Christ within us have the smoke cleared away, if only we will trust and hold tight to Him.

For this reason, we are encouraged to “lay aside the old self” and be renewed in the “spirit of our minds.” Think in layers for a moment. Your mind is the foundation, followed by attitudes, and manifested in behavior. Some days we have to set aside the old self several times in one hour! But it is our destiny to see through the smoke, to live with true understanding, so that we mature and walk as Christ would walk. Exactly what the specific results of that new walk may look like are too numerous to list here, but grasp the picture Paul is painting and make it your banner today.

———-  Are there any behaviors or attitudes that you’re holding onto and not laying aside?

His completed work

Philippians 1:6  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

The foundation for our spiritual growth is our recognition that our Creator, who began a good work in us through salvation, will bring that work to completion through sanctification.  We need to look back at what He’s already done so that we can remember how good He’s been and keep in mind that He’s faithful and will remain active in our lives.  We can have confidence that God will never let us go.

Sometimes we need to act on what we know to be true instead of what feels true at any given moment.  Feelings are a big part of who we are since we’re spiritual beings, but they can often be misleading.  When it feels like God isn’t living up to His promises, but we know that He’s faithful and won’t let us go, we need to rely less on feeling and more on what we know to be true.

One way we know that we can rely on God is though His Word.  Story after story is documented of His faithfulness to His people.  This, along with the evidence in our own stories, gives us hope that He will indeed complete the work that He began.

———-  Reflect on where you were spiritually 5 years ago, 2 years ago, one year ago.  Think about how much God has done to develop you into the person He created you to be.

Give your best, first

Malachi 3:10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

Giving is not always included in material about spiritual disciplines for Christian life, but it is important not to neglect this discipline.  Nowhere else in Scripture does God tell His people to test Him.  When we are told to give as a test of the Lord’s goodness, we can believe that He will live up to His promises.

Take note:  giving is not about money.  The Sovereign Creator of the universe does not need your dollars and cents.  He wants your devotion, your obedience, your love.  He wants your life to be about Him and that means not holding on to earthly things.  He wants to be first in your life.  By giving the first of your finances, the first of your time, the best of your affections, you are showing God that He is first in your life.  And that doesn’t just have to be the “tithe”.

Tithing is not about the numbers.  Some bicker about how much one is to tithe (10% of gross income vs 10% of net income, etc).  Ideally, we would all give much more than just 10% of our income.  It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the heart (2 Corinthians 9:7, Mark 12:41-44).  There is no set number on how much to give, but there certainly is a command to give (Malachi 3, Numbers 18).

The principle to remember in this discipline is that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6).  We must give God our best, first.

Love Jesus more than anything

Mark 12:30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Someone once asked Jesus what God’s greatest command was (Mark 12:28). He answered that it was to love God with everything we have, more than we love anything else. That’s a difficult thing for most of us. We love a lot of things.

Think about some things that you love. You love your family. You may have a pet that you love. Maybe there is a hobby you can’t get enough of. Or there could even be things like your career or the success you’ve achieved that have become objects of your love. God is saying to love Him more than you love anything else. Anything at all.

There was another person in the Bible that asked Jesus what He had to do to get into heaven (Matthew 19:16). Jesus answered Him that he had to give up all of the things that he loved more than he loved Jesus. The very rich man had a ton of stuff he had acquired. The man couldn’t part with his possessions because he had begun to identify himself by them, so he didn’t give up anything and he went away from Jesus very sad. What that man needed to realize was that Jesus is better than anything that he loved in his life. What you and I need to realize is that anything we could give up for Jesus is worth it.

We should love Jesus so much that we want what He wants. We should want to be like Him and want to do what He did. When we make Him most important in our lives, we’re starting to really live for God. When He’s our treasure, and we love Him above all, we can be transformed.

Living sacrifice: All that you are

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

God did an amazing thing for us in sending Jesus. He not only redeemed us and saved us from eternity in hell by forgiving us, but He adopted us into His family and now calls us His own children. Because we’re now His, He’s ours, we are not our own, we have been bought with a price. And our response to His mercy and grace is to give Him the one thing He wants – ourselves, to glorify God with our bodies. Our thoughts, our words, our work, our actions, our desires, our time, our talents, and our treasures. Not just all we have, but all we are. This may sound unreasonable, but trust me, the trade we make works in our favor. Like the man in the parable who sold all he had to buy a field where a great treasure was buried, our lives are so much richer with Jesus than with anything we’re unwilling to trade for having Him.

Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Submitting ourselves to Him pleases Him and brings about a transformation that we could never accomplish on our own. Jesus is better than anything we trade for Him.

Living sacrifice: Presenting your heart

Matthew 19:21-22 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

What is it that you want in life? Better question: is it what God wants for your life? I think this is the big hang up for people when it comes to presenting our whole bodies as a living sacrifice. The human heart wants what it wants, and sometimes that something destructive or sinful, and yet we can’t let go of it. Our desires can be very powerful. Look at the rich, young ruler in Matthew 19. He asked Jesus what he had to do to be saved. He said he kept the whole Law and obeyed God. Jesus told him the one thing he still needed to do was let go of what he was holding on to – his possessions. He couldn’t do it, and he missed out on something better. Some people interpret this story all wrong. It’s not about selling all of our stuff. It’s about giving our all.

We do surprising things to get what we want, things we’d never have thought we’d do. Our motives are shaped by what’s in our hearts. What are you holding on to that’s keeping you from being transformed? If Jesus is better than anything else we can have; what’s stopping you from letting go and trading what you want for what God wants?

When we submit our motives, God gives us desires that please Him. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

Living sacrifice: Presenting your feet

Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

Have you ever thought you knew what you were supposed to do, only to have it all fall apart and just not work out? I’ve been there with my life. I thought I had a future in politics. It seemed promising, but the deeper I got into things, the more frustrating it got and the less I seemed successful. It was only when I started letting go of what I wanted and letting the Lord direct me that I realized He had something greater planned.

It can be hard to let go of having our own way. We put in a lot of hard work to move in the direction of our own goals. When it comes to surrendering those for the sake of what God wants for us, it’s an incredibly humbling experience.  His plans are always better than ours though.

Think about what you want out of life. Where are you going and how are you going to get here? Now ask if your goals fit into God’s bigger plan. If you can’t answer yes, what will you do to align with Him?

When we submit our moves, God gives us destinations.

Living sacrifice: Presenting your hands

Hebrews 13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Ministry: This is the work of your hands. The things you choose to do. One who’s been transformed works as though they’re working for the Lord and not for man. If you’re transformed, you care about what God wants you to do more than about your hobbies and personal ambitions. You set to work for what matters, not just for what you want.

I’ve often heard pastors talk about how God wants our time, our talents, and our treasures. These are all related to the hands. With our hands we can hold on to things, or we can share things. We can use our talents for ourselves or for God. We can spend our time doing selfish things or on things that matter. Where are you spending your most valuable assets?

I did a lot of fruitless things in my life before realizing what the Lord wanted me to do. The problem was I was trying to do things without allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through me. Nothing was succeeding because of my unwillingness to submit and trade what I wanted for what He wanted. When I finally recognized that His way is better, I traded in false gods and gained purpose.

When we submit our ministry, God gives us duties to accomplish. We all want to do something worthwhile, but what God gives us to do is far greater than anything we can think up.

Living sacrifice: Presenting your mouth

Hebrews 13:15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

We praise God with our words. We represent God with our words, for better or for worse. We can make Him look good or make Him look bad. As an example, think of Christians you know who are always encouraging and sharing the gospel and Christians who are always griping or complaining. Think about someone like Billy Graham and compare them to some grumpy old guy in church, or maybe a group of protestors who claim to speak for God. Who makes you want to hear more about God?

We don’t like being told what we can and can’t say. We have freedom of speech to say whatever we want! Yes, we CAN say whatever we want, but not everything that can be said should be said. Out of the heart the mouth speaks, so if there are ugly things being said, then it’s not a mouth issue, it’s a heart issue. A transformed heart leads to words that build up, not destroy, encourage, not hurt, praise God, not defame Him.

I have the spiritual gift of sarcasm. You say something to me and I will likely have some smart comment to throw back at you in relatively quick fashion. I’ve got to watch it, because sometimes I can hurt others, even though I didn’t intend that to be the outcome. I have a daily responsibility to submit my mouth to God. Can you relate?

Have you laid this down before God and said, “Lord I want to speak words of life. May the words of my mouth be pleasing to you?”

When we submit our mouths, God gives us declarations. He’s not about giving us a script, but He empowers us to speak life.