Third Sunday in Lent
March 7, 2010
“Walking in the Love of God” Ephesians 5, 1-9
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet‑smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any 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. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth).
We use the word “Christian” to identify people. Who are these people that we call Christians? Christians are those who receive the forgiveness of sins from God though faith in the blood of Jesus shed on the cross to forgive them. Christians live in fellowship with God. While their faith is personal it doesn’t arise from them personally. They are brought to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. He regenerates them through the washing of Holy Baptism so that they are truly born of God, born again, born from above. Christians are justified through faith alone. Justification is when God declares that you are righteous. Since the righteousness by which the Christian is justified is the righteousness of Christ every Christian is perfectly righteous. There’s nothing lacking in Christ or in what he did for us. He gave himself for us as an offering and a sacrifice to God that fully satisfied God in every way. St. Paul calls Christ’s sacrifice “a sweet-smelling aroma.” His love and obedience to His Father all the way to His death on the cross brought pleasure to God. When we are covered with this righteousness by baptism through faith God is pleased with us and we bring pleasure to him. This is on account of Christ and Christ alone.
The Christian is fully justified because there is nothing lacking in his righteousness. It is Christ’s righteousness and there is nothing lacking in Christ. But God also sanctifies his Christians. He makes them holy. A Christian is a child of God. A Christian is a saint, that is, a holy person. While the righteousness we have for Christ’s sake is perfect, the holiness in our own lives is not. As we confess in the explanation to the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “For we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.” We are perfectly righteous. But we are not completely sanctified in this life.
We will face temptations throughout life. God fills us with his love. The world offers us its love. We are caught between. As saints we want to imitate the life we have in Christ. We want to live lives that conform to the divine love that the Holy Spirit has poured into our hearts. But as sinners we want to satisfy our own sinful desires and replace divine love with a false human imitation. When we give into the temptation to do so we are playing with fire.
St. Paul writes in our text,
For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any 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.
Fornication is being sexually intimate with someone to whom you are not married. God has reserved this intimacy for marriage. Fornication defiles marriage. God sanctifies the sexual union by bringing the man and the woman together in marriage.
Uncleanness is a reference to all sorts of unmentionable things of a sexually immoral or perverse nature.
A covetous man is a reference to someone who sets his heart on wealth and worships his possessions. St. Paul calls him an idolater. He loves his possessions more than he loves his neighbor – even more than he loves God. He worships the creation instead of the Creator. This is the essence of idolatry.
St. Paul makes it clear that these people are not Christians. But one might argue. “Paul, you are wrong. I know many Christians who live this way.” The apostle replies: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” People are deceived in precisely this manner. As a result they fall away from the faith and lock themselves outside of the kingdom of Christ. They choose to live lives that are incompatible with the Christian faith and yet they think they are Christians. St. Paul says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die.” Romans 8, 13a
Note the contrast that St. Paul sets forth in our text. He contrasts fornication, uncleanness, and covetousness with walking in love. Love serves the other. Love does not set out to get, but to give. Love submits to God’s commandments. If you love God you do as he says. You don’t tell him his business and decide that he is wrong and you are right. Not only does God define what is right and wrong, he also applies his own standards. In our text St. Paul condemns filthiness, foolish talking, and coarse jesting. This is a reference to telling dirty jokes, laughing and making light of sin, and participating in the kind of talk that treats what is holy as if it were dirty. We are to have no fellowship with this sort of thing. Why? It goes against love.
Christians are children of light. They live in the light of God’s truth. They celebrate goodness, promote righteousness, and confess truth. They imitate the love of God that called them out of darkness. They live as if they are holy because God says that they are holy. When seeking their identity as Christians, they don’t look to the world but to Christ. They know that the world’s version of love is counterfeit.
Those who set their hearts on wealth above all else set their hearts on evil. Wealth isn’t evil. It’s a positive blessing from a generous God. But the love of money is a root of every kind of evil imaginable, and when you love things more than people you embrace a contempt for humanity that is, at root, a contempt for God. God’s greatest glory is seen in his love for fallen and sinful humanity. To love things more than people is to despise him who, in the beginning, made us in his own image. It is to despise him who took on human flesh and blood and redeemed those who had fallen from the image in which he created them.
To treat the intimacy that God has joined to marriage as if it is ours to do with as we please outside of marriage is just another way of denying God as our Father. If God is our Father and we are his children this means that he is both our Maker and our Redeemer. If God were only our Maker and not our Redeemer we would not be his children. We would be the devil’s children. But we are God’s children. Jesus cast out devils by the finger of God, that is, by the Spirit of God. Those who by the Holy Spirit are joined to him in his mystical body – the Holy Christian Church – have been delivered from the devil. The devil would destroy God’s creation. The attack on marriage that we see all around us is an attack on God and God’s creation.
We live during a time of hostility to God’s holy institutions. The sanctity of marriage, the office of father and mother, the Church, and the ministry of the Word are despised, demeaned, and finally ignored. Marriage? We can do without it! Parents? You can’t run my life! Church? I don’t need organized religion! The office of the ministry? We are all ministers and can serve ourselves! So go the voices of rebellion against everything good that God has established for us in this world. A radical individualism that sets the individual in the place of God has invaded our culture, our congregations, and our homes. In the name of love it promotes a self-centered libertinism. In the name of freedom it promotes slavery to selfishness. It traps those who embrace its creed in a power of evil just as strong as that of any demon our Lord Jesus cast out by the finger of God.
Thank God Jesus is here among us with the same grace and truth He brought into this world two thousand years ago. When we find ourselves living unchristian lives, embracing what is antithetical to our faith and confession, and wondering if we are Christians, we find in Jesus a compassion greater than our sin. He calls us back to Himself. He calls us back to true love. We confess our uncleanness, our sins of which we are ashamed, our idolatrous love of self, and our failure to live the holy lives he gave us to live. We confess and he absolves. The life he offered to God remains. It isn’t bare history. It is a present reality. Jesus gave his life as an offering to God, not merely as a moral example for us, but in order to make us partakers of the joy that the Father has in him, his only begotten Son. It is this holy fellowship of divine love into which our Lord Jesus calls us.
Perhaps you are afraid to enter. You think you don’t belong. You remember what you’ve done. God’s law has struck your conscience where you live and you know you have no right to enjoy true love with the true God who will not have fellowship with any evil of any kind. You see yourself on the outside of God’s kingdom looking in and you know you’re not worthy to come in. Your sins burden your heart and until you feel a release inside your heart your conscience forbids you to believe that you are at peace with God.
Listen to Jesus. He sets your conscience at rest. In him God’s kingdom comes to you. He has the power to cast out demons because he is God in the flesh. He offered his life to the Father to bring divine approval on you. He invites you in. He invites you to leave at Calvary the shameful sins to which you have clung and by which you denied your inheritance as a Christian. He tells you to leave those sins where they belong, covered by his innocent blood, washed away in your baptism, removed from you as far as the east is from the west.
And he invites you to embrace true love. Not the love of serving our own passions and grasping for more and more and more of what will be destroyed with this world, but the love of God. This is a love in which you can walk, dear Christian, for your Savior has walked this way before you. By his pure and holy obedience that so pleased his Father, he made the path on which you walk. It is a road of pure grace, a road that leads to heaven. It ends in a joy uncorrupted by sin, selfishness, or any form of idolatrous desire. This joy will last forever and ever. It will be the joy of perfect fellowship with God. Amen