Tag Archives: Faith

Moral clarity and mission in Ephesians

Blending inOne of the most difficult issues for Christians to navigate in our generation (and in any generation) is how to engage faithfully and constructively with people who don’t share our Christian beliefs. If our approach is too strident, we make enemies unnecessarily, but if we lose our sense of identity and mission while we are immersed in the surrounding culture, the distinctive beauty of our Christian witness is diminished.

Three passages in Ephesians offer help in clarifying how a Christian living in the light can shine within a dark world.

Ephesians 4:17-19 foreshadows teaching on putting off the “old self” and putting on the “new self” by exhorting believers to leave behind the non-Christian attitudes and practices that characterized their former lives. Their old selves were permeated by “the futility of their thinking,” and being “darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God.” They were marked by “ignorance” (of God’s good will), hardened hearts, a loss of “all sensitivity” (to God and his work), and various moral vices.

Ephesians 5:8-14 uses the imagery of light and darkness to highlight the drastic change of the believer’s spiritual situation. “Light” is grouped with belonging to God, living a morally fruitful life, and pleasing the Lord. “Darkness” is associated with fruitless deeds, shame, and hiding. Christians are called to separate themselves from participation in darkness while shining brightly in the dark environment around them.

Ephesians 6:10-12 depicts the Christian struggle to live for God in the world as warfare. Paul is careful to specify that our enemy is not “flesh and blood” though. The devil and all other spiritual rulers, authorities, powers, and forces of evil in “this dark world” are the ones who oppose God’s people. Christians must stand strong in their identity in Christ and all of the divine resources God has made available to us in this supernatural struggle.

Two key truths emerge from these three passages:

1. The light/dark contrast and stark difference between believers and unbelievers alerts us to the need for moral clarity and discernment in our lives. It is a false dichotomy to say that Christians in their relationships and behavior can be either loving or holy. A sloppy line of reasoning among some Christians goes like this: A) it is wrong to be moralistic and legalistic – concerned with only outward behavior and being pure; B) therefore, just love other people and don’t be concerned about moral excellence. Our engagement with the world is characterized by both love and light. It is interesting to note that in 1 John, two things are said about God: “God is love” (4:8,16) and “God is light” (1:5).

2. Spiritual battle is a reality in our lives, but we must be sure to identify the correct enemy: Satan and the forces under him, not the unbelievers we encounter. We need to be spiritually and morally vigilant in our resistance to Satan’s agenda and values. But we should be careful about adopting a cultural warrior attitude against people who don’t believe in Christ. Our posture towards others should be that of an “ambassador” (Eph 6:20), looking for opportunities to represent God well as we share the light of Christ  with those who don’t know him.

Unlike the lizard (at least I think that’s what it is!) in the opening picture, Christians are called to stand out within our environment. We are not driven by hostility towards those around us but motivated with a desire to shine the light of the gospel in dark places.

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The Beliefs of Christian Unity

One. Paul repeats this adjective over and over in Ephesians 4:4-6.

Christians of all stripes are joined together as one body. As was mentioned last time in our discussion of the virtues of Christian unity, this is something that Christ brings about, through his death for us on the cross (Eph 2:14-16). Today, the focus shifts to what we believe as one body.

Trinity fellowship window

We are one body, no matter what our backgrounds.

One Spirit gives us life and makes us the holy temple where God dwells (see also Eph 2:20-22). We are more than a voluntary association of like-minded people. We are a dwelling of God, by the Spirit.

One hope keeps us waking up each day with a sense of purpose and confidence. We are part of a story that is heading somewhere.

One Lord is our master. Christians proclaim “Jesus is Lord,” declaring our allegiance to the King of Kings.

One faith is our experience (“it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” – Eph 2:8), a faith whose object is the King who died for us.

One baptism forges our identity. This baptism reminds us that we left our old lives behind and we now walk in the newness of life (see Rom 6). What matters most about us is that we are “in Christ,” or united in his death and resurrection.

One God and Father of all. He is a God to those who once were “without God in this world” (Eph 2:12), and He is our Father, who has adopted us and blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3).

God, the Father, Son, and Spirit. We are united in our worship.  True Christian ecumenism draws a line in the sand about God. From the earliest centuries of the church, Christians were stubborn about defending how God should be understood, talked about, and worshiped. The great creeds confess, “we believe in one God . . . be believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ . . . we believe in the Holy Spirit.” Christians said, “This is what we believe about Father, Son, and Spirit, this is what we don’t believe, and our view of God matters more than anything.”

Faith, baptism, hope. We are united in our experience. We have cast our lot with the Christian God, the Christian story. Our hearts have been converted, and our lives are being transformed. Leaving behind the old life, we walk towards the bright future that Christ has prepared for us.

One body. Being one body makes sense only in this context. Ecumenism is pursued not at the expense of truth, but guided and enriched by it. Next time we will see the results of unity that we as one body can anticipate.

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Faith and Reason, part 2

Photo: Synagogues such as this one in Chorazin on the Sea of Galilee functioned as places of faith and learning for the Jews.

Faith should be enriched through learning, and reason should be chastened by faith. We looked at the first half of this statement in the last blog post. Today, we’ll look at the second half.

Reason should be chastened by faith. Higher institutions of learning often miss the mark on this one, which becomes obvious when we take note of the many universities that began with a Christian mission but have long since drifted from those moorings. In an academic environment, there is always a danger of allowing reason to run roughshod over faith.

Proverbs 9:10 (and 1:7) reminds us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Jeremiah 9:23-24: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom . . . but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.”

1 Corinthians 1:25: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

Throughout church history, theologians such as Augustine and Anselm have reiterated the commitment to “faith seeking understanding.”

All of the above excerpts communicate the idea that reason operates best when it is solidly within the context of a robust devotion to God. We integrate all other learning into a worshipful life with God and a commitment to following Christ over the course of our entire lives. We make sure reason is chastened by faith because when reason functions independently, it can lead us astray, especially in our conclusions about God and his workings (theologians talk about the noetic effects of sin, or the negative influence of sin on our minds and thinking).

We begin a new semester with the desire to finish with a stronger, more enriched faith than before. This requires intentional preparation and ongoing focus. Regular involvement in a healthy local church is essential along the way, since a church by design places its priorities of worship and faith at the front and center. As faith leads the way and learning is done with excellence and humility, may we reach the goal of greater intimacy with God and greater confidence in him.

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Faith and Reason, part 1

A new semester is about to begin. Students are settling into dorms, professors are preparing syllabi, and all of us are about to embark on a journey of faith and reason. How should we think about this relationship between faith and reason? Here’s an attempt:

Faith should be enriched through learning, and reason should be chastened by faith.

First, faith is enriched through learning. We tend to assume this as a given in Christian higher education, and rightly so. From the creation mandate of Genesis 1:26-28 to the creation wisdom of Proverbs to the new creation vision of Isaiah, Revelation, and elsewhere, believers are invited to make creative and productive use of the resources of this world and the learning available to us.

Consider this new creation vision of work in Isaiah 65:21-23:

“They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit . . . My chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not toil in vain.”

The new creation will be characterized by creative, fruitful work, in fulfillment of the original creation mandate of Genesis 1. Beneficial work in this world connects us back to what we were created for and points us forward to the ultimate new creation that God is preparing.

Preparing for meaningful work requires thinking, creating, observing, learning, experimenting – things we do in higher education. For those who prepare well, there can be great opportunity: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings” (Proverbs 22:29).  A commitment to learning, curiosity, persistence, and excellence in our schooling equips us to bless people and make a difference in our world.

The book of Proverbs beckons us to gain insight both from knowledge shared by others (Prov 1:1-6) and from observations about the natural world (Prov 30:24-33). Attentiveness to the world around us enriches our appreciation for the order, beauty, and complexity of God’s creation and our place in it (Psalm 8:3-8).

Reason should be seen as one of God’s good gifts to us (1 Timothy 4:4, James 1:17), leading us to lives of wisdom, fruitfulness, and worship (Romans 11:33-36; James 3:13). This brings us to the second half of the equation – that reason should be chastened by faith. We will look at this second point later this week.

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