Did you enjoy the Summer Olympics? Believe or not today is the closing ceremonies. And Jen and I are so sad to see the games end. I know it’s not everybody’s thing and that’s fine. But we love watching the Olympics and usually don’t get a whole lot of sleep during the two weeks. We love the human drama of athletic competition, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. We love the stories of the athletes who make it to the highest level of their sport, often overcoming incredible adversity and sometimes giving Jesus the glory.
Most of us know about Michael Phelps the swimmer who set a record that may never be broken winning a total of 28 Olympic medals, including 23 gold. But what you may not know about Phelps is that a few years ago he went through a period of deep depression that had him contemplating suicide.
Then Ray Lewis the ex-football star of the Baltimore Ravens gave him a copy of The Purpose Driven Life. And the book changed Michael’s life. It introduced him to a power greater than himself and helped him reconcile his relationship with his estranged father who had divorced his mom when he was just 9 years old.
And how about the story of the Wayde van Niekerk, the 24 year-old South African who won the gold medal in the 400 meters. He broke a 17 year old world record and was quick to give credit to his coach, Anna Botha, a 74 year-old great-grandmother who loves Wayde like a son.
He then went on to say, “Jesus did it! God just showed how faithful he’s been in my life and I’m very grateful for the continuous blessing.”
And did you hear the interview with David Boudia and Steele Johnson, the two American synchronized divers who won silver medals? They talked like they had been following our series in Ephesians this summer, all about their identity in Christ.
When asked about the pressure of the Olympic Games Boudia said in a nationally televised interview, “It’s just an identity crisis. When my mind is on diving, and I think I’m defined by this, then my mind goes crazy. But we both know that our identity is in Christ.”
Steele Johnson added, “The way David just described it is flawless – the fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not in the result of this competition just gave me peace and let me enjoy the contest.”
Wow! My identity is rooted in Christ. I love that! We are more than divers, they say. We are more than Olympians. We are even more than silver medalists. We are in Christ above anything else. Church, that’s who we are too. We are in Christ more than we are anything else. That is our primary identity if we believe in Jesus. And our identity in Christ affects everything we do, even how we compete in a diving event at the Olympic Games.
We’ve been talking a lot about identity in this series called Becoming Who We Are because the Apostle Paul has been talking a lot about identity in his letter to the Ephesians.
In chapters 1-3, Paul tells us who we are and now in chapters 4-6 he tells us to become who we are, to live like we’re in Christ when it comes to our sexuality and our money and our words and our drinking and our worship. The stuff we deal with every day. Let’s see how that works.
If you have a Bible turn with me to Ephesians 5:1-3 (p. 816), Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Follow God’s example. And what is God’s example? God’s example is that he loved us when we were downright unlovable. God loved us unconditionally. The Greek word for love here is the word “agape” which means unconditional love. That’s the kind of love God wants us to express to each other, an unconditional, sacrificial love, the same kind of love that parents often have for their dearly loved children.
When we love others like that we will become who we really are. But that kind of love only comes when we submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit and allow him to produce it in our lives. He makes it happen. We can’t. So what does it look like to walk in the way of love? It looks like doing certain things and not doing other things.
Look at verse 3, But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.
Wow! Those are some pretty strong words and sober warnings. How we live matters. No immoral, impure or greedy person is going to inherit the kingdom of Christ and of God. What does that mean? Does that mean immoral people won’t get into heaven? Greedy people? Impure people? I don’t think so. If that’s the case, then we’re all disqualified on some level. Getting into the kingdom is not based on our behavior. It’s by grace through faith in Christ. Paul made that clear in chapter 2.
But being rewarded in the kingdom, which many believe is what the word “inherit” means, is based on our behavior after we trust Christ. Just like there’s a big difference between living in a house and inheriting a house. So there’s a big difference between living in the kingdom and inheriting the kingdom. Inheritance means ownership. No immoral, impure or greedy person is going to have ownership in the kingdom of Christ. They may live there, but they will not rule or reign with the King.
Now if I can sum up in one phrase what Paul is talking about here, it would be this, morality matters. Morality matters for those of us who are in Christ. We don’t hear a lot about morality in our culture these days. Sociologists have documented a clear shift away from traditional, widely held morals in this country to more personal codes of conduct that individuals decide for themselves.
Even in the church there’s been a shift away from morality to a more relational view of Jesus. Often we hear that religion is all about rules, but Jesus is all about relationships. And he is. Jesus is all about relationships without a doubt.
But every relationship has boundaries whether it’s a friendship, or a marriage, or a colleague at work, or an acquaintance in the neighborhood. Every relationship has actions that either foster that relationship or hinder that relationship. That’s morality. It sets the foul lines for how to treat each other well and walk in the way of love. Morality is inescapable.
Morality is not some religious add on to our walk with Jesus or some set of random rules to stifle our freedom. Morality is at the core of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. And if we believe in a God who created us in his image and wants us to follow his example and become like him then we must embrace the moral path that he’s revealed in Scripture. He’s the one who has set the boundaries for our own good.
Now our culture has moved further and further away from God and the Bible and a standard of morality. So everyone seems to be doing what is right in their own eyes, which really is nothing new. In fact, the Old Testament book of Judges, written over 3,000 years ago, ends with those same words in Judges 21:25, In those days Israel had no king. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
I read an excellent article on morality this week by Joel Miller that closed by saying, “Morality is identity. Moral capacities make us who we are. As we follow the commandments of Christ, we become like him. Our identity conforms to his. On the other hand, if we choose our own path, one of our own devising, we’re willfully adopting an identity other than the one that brings us closer to union with our Creator.”
(Blank Slide) Paul starts with sexual immorality. We don’t have time to unpack all of these, but let’s just talk about sex for a minute. From cover to cover the Bible is consistent that sex is a wonderful thing created by God. It’s his idea. And God’s design for sexual intercourse is between one man and one woman in the context of a marriage covenant. Jesus affirms that and even raises the bar to include our thought life.
But that’s not what we hear in our culture. What we hear is that sex is a natural appetite like eating or drinking that needs to be satisfied by sampling anything on the menu. Or that sex is a way to find yourself and to be yourself. Sex is for me and my needs and my pleasure. Or that sex is dirty and shouldn’t be discussed at all. It’s a necessary evil to propagate the human race. Some even blame the Bible for that view.
But all those reasons fall way short of God’s intention for sexual expression. Sex between a man and a woman is a sacred, uniting act. It’s the physical expression of the oneness of marriage. Genesis 2:24 says, That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Oneness is the goal of marriage. That’s what Jennifer and I tell every couple that we marry. And sexual intercourse is the physical expression of that oneness in the context of the marriage covenant. That’s why sex outside of marriage is so destructive because eventually it works backwards and erodes a person’s ability to make a commitment and trust anyone or be trusted themselves.
Married couples, I love how Tim Keller puts it in his book The Meaning of Marriage when he says, “So according to the Bible, a covenant is necessary for sex. It creates a place of security for vulnerability and intimacy. But sex is also necessary to maintain the covenant. Every time you have sex you are renewing the marriage covenant. Sex is like oil in the engine of a marriage. Without it the friction between all the moving parts will burn out the motor. Rather than being the glue that holds you together, it becomes a force to divide you. Never give up working on your sex life.” Wow. Married couples you are dismissed. Go and do your homework!
Paul goes on to say the same thing in poetic terms. Look at verses 8-14, (Blank Slide) For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Paul says have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. What does that mean? Does that mean we should all go around pointing our finger at the culture and condemning all those who aren’t living in the light? Bad people. You should all be ashamed of yourself.
No. Instead, it means that as we live in the light with strong moral fiber, our life itself will expose the deeds of darkness being done all around us. And get ready because some people will be upset by that and will accuse us of judging them just because of the shadow that our light casts, even if we don’t say a word. But others will be attracted by that kind of life and want to know more about what drives us.
And finally our identity affects how much we drink and how much we worship. Look at verse 15, Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.
Is it okay to drink? The Scriptures don’t condemn drinking. Is it okay to get drunk and lose control to alcohol or any other kind of addictive substance? No. That leads us in the wrong direction. That leads to debauchery. What’s debauchery? Debauchery is defined as bad or immoral behavior that involves sex, drugs, and alcohol. Again it’s ignoring the foul lines that destroy our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves. That’s not walking in the way of love.
Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Be controlled by the Spirit, not by anything else. Sing and make music to the Lord. That’s why we prioritize worship around here. That’s why we spend a good portion of each gathering singing and giving thanks to God for everything. Don’t miss out on that each week. Worship keeps us walking in the light.
Now can we do all these things in our own strength? No. Not at all. Are we going to mess up and fall short? Absolutely. Nobody’s perfect except Jesus. We will not always be filled with the Spirit and live in the light. That’s why we need the cross. That’s why we need forgiveness. That’s why Jesus died for us and for all the times we fail to walk in the way of love.
But like the Apostle Paul and David Boudia and Steele Johnson said. Our identity is rooted in Christ. We are in Christ above anything else. And that changes everything about the way we live. Let’s stand for closing prayer.