by Mike Ratliff
17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Ephesians 4:17-24 (NASB)
God allowed me to teach in church this morning. It was the pastor’s class. There are 4 teachers and they rotate. One of the four had to be out of town so I was asked to fill in for him. We are working our way through Romans. When my turn came it was time to cover Chapter 12. I was asked to do this a week ago so I guess you know now why so many of my posts lately have been about what it means for Christians to be a living sacrifice acceptable to God which is our reasonable service. However, this morning we covered vv1-21. This is first time I have stood in front of a group in church to teach since 2013. I have led our small group Bible studies when we have met in our home, but that is not the same thing, at least not for me. I knew all the elders in the class and there were several people I knew and have known since the 1980’s, but there were also several people I did not know. I spent a great deal of time preparing for this class both in the Word and in prayer.
When I came into the lobby of our church this morning one of the elders met me and told me he had been praying for me all week. I told him that I could tell and I was not exaggerating. I had a very calm peace about the whole thing that I cannot explain. Also, I knew that God was in this because of how hard our enemy was working to distract me, to drag me into certain anger or outrage type sins, even as I drove to church this morning. I thanked God each time it happened and that peace grew even deeper.
I worked on the lesson last night. I focused most of the exegesis on vv1-2. When I got done with that it was obvious that vv 3-8 were talking about our spiritual gifts and that we are to know what they are and that we should use them in the power of the Holy Spirit as living sacrifices which tied back into vv1-2. I made sure that was a large part of my lesson. When I got to vv9-21 it was obvious that all the verbs in it were Present Active Participles pointing back to the main verb in the passage, which is of course our becoming living sacrifices. So, I made that part of the lesson plan as well.
As I taught the lesson this morning it was quiet. People nodded, people raised their hands and shared how what Paul wrote in Romans 12 was going on in their lives as they were walking closer and closer with the Lord. It went very quickly. I was amazed. I ended the lesson by reading a passage from James that was the starting point for me in how to turn away from being self-focused and walking a self-denying, God-focused path. Here it is:
6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. James 4:6-10 (NASB)
As I said, our time in class went very fast. We left and prepared for our church service and to hear from our interim pastor. His text was on 1 Peter 2:1-3.
1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. 1 Peter 2:1-3 (NASB)
Do you see a common thread my brethren? I certainly do. I am convinced that God had us go through Romans 12 this morning as we also studied 1 Peter 2:1-3. The “therefore” at the beginning refers back to 1 Peter 1:23-25.
23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
“All flesh is like grass,
And all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
And the flower falls off,
25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word which was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:23-25 (NASB)
The “therefore” is saying,”because you are are born again…then do this.” Do what? “putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,” This putting aside action is the renouncing and purging of old sins that we carried around when we were lost, but now we are Born Again. Those sins are no longer part of what it means to be a Christian so we must repent of them, leave them in the dust bin, turn away from them, deny ourselves and follow Jesus. What are these sins? Malice is hurtful thoughts and actions. Deceit is lying and guile. Hypocrisy is looking like one thing on the outside, but being totally different on the inside like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day whom He called “white washed tombs.” Envy is wanting what other people have. Slander is backbiting or evil speaking or defamation. These sins are not part of Christian character.
In v2 Paul says just as a newborn baby longs for pure milk, Christians must long in the same way for the pure milk of the Word. This is not longing to hear preachers preach or get the latest Bible study from one of our favorite Bible study leaders, but to hear and apply what the Word says and apply it to your life as we did in the pastor’s class this morning. We are to change our lives like this so that our focus is eternal rather than temporal and this will cause us to grow in respect to salvation. What this means is that we will mature in Christ. We will no longer be babes who cannot endure the fires of tribulation, but we will be able to walk through the purification fires God has for us and we will endure and grow more and more. As we do this in our lives we will become effective disciples who share our faith and disciple others.
I found out today how much I have missed teaching. God’s will be done.
Soli Deo Gloria!