Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi) (Ephesians 5:1-9)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi) + March 4, 2018

Text: Ephesians 5:1-9

 

St. Paul says, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

 

“What makes you think that you’re special?” The implication is that being special or privileged is a bad thing.  Sure people will tolerate that you can be unique in your appearance, tastes, or life story, but woe to the person who has special status.  We’re bombarded by messages that tell us to shun privileged status and never to discriminate between people.

 

The resentment over privilege may come from times when someone thinks they’re better than others (like the Pharisee over the tax collector in Luke 18:11).  But the problem isn’t with the privileged status itself. It’s a problem in the heart called entitlement.  It’s much easier to throw out the baby with the bath water and say that all privilege is a bad thing, and that we should strive for equality in every form.

 

Christians are one of those people who get labelled as special and privileged.  “Boy I can’t stand church-going people.  They just think they’re better than everyone else, like they’re God’s chosen people”

 

Actually, we are—the chosen part, not the better than others.  It didn’t come from an arrogant desire to look down on other people.  God said we are His chosen people…multiple times: “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” and “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”[1]

 

For the believer, it is right to say that God has chosen us.  He called us by the Gospel to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior.  That calling sets believers apart from the rest of the world, makes them distinct, and gives them privileged status.  But it’s best to use the word God uses: holy.  Christians are holy people.

 

In contrast to holy people are people who are profane.  As holy people, Christians believe differently, think differently, and live differently from the profane.  Holy people belong to the Lord who rescued and redeemed them.  Profane people do not have a god, and so their life is built on a different foundation.  For the profane, it is enough to fit in and be like those who are around you.

 

Take gender and sexuality for example.  If we were profane people, it would be enough to imitate the people around us.  Questions of propriety are answered by prevailing trends.  60 years ago, homosexuality, fornication, and abortion were all looked down upon.  But times have changed, and those things are socially acceptable.

 

So, for the profane, it’s perfectly acceptable for sexuality to be a means to gratify personal pleasure.  Whatever makes you feel best must be right.

 

But it’s different for a holy people.  We have a God who has redeemed us from the manmade gods of this world.  “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (v. 1) Christians are imitators of God and beloved children.  Our God made us—body and soul—in His image, male and female as two necessary, and not interchangeable parts of a whole. Husbands for wives, and wives for husbands.  Men and women uniquely made with gifts that differ according to God’s ordering.

 

We know the God who created men and women as sexual and emotional beings, for life-long intimacy between husband and wife.  Those desires are not to be gratified selfishly but as part of a whole life of love toward your spouse and children.

 

Christians have a different ethic than the world, because God has made Himself known to us.  And that is a good thing in God’s eyes, to be a peculiar people for Him.

 

But we still live in the world, and we still live with our hardened, sinful hearts.  So it is a struggle between the holy and the profane right inside each of us.

 

This is evident even in our own synod. The profane rears its head, even among God’s holy people.  At the 2016 National Youth Gathering, a survey found the following:

  • 6 percent of youth said that homosexual acts are always wrong, 20.3 percent responded it is OK if both people love each other and 11.2 responded that it is OK if both people consent.
  • 3 percent favored gay marriage…26.5 percent were unsure.
  • 48.3 percent responded that pre-marital sex is always wrong, 16.1 percent that it is OK if both people love each other and 14.3 percent that it is ok if both persons consent.[2]

 

The battle is wages in each of our hearts, for the holy calling of God to triumph over the profane sinful flesh.  And the stakes are incredibly high.  To His holy, beloved children, God also warns: 5You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:5–6)   Those who forsake God and the privileged position He has bestowed on them by grace, will also lose their place in His kingdom. If you want to be like the world, you will go the way of the world and pass away.

 

With such danger all around and inside us, what can we do?  God gives us His Holy Spirit.  Remember that the Holy Spirit is the one who “sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.”  He alone is the One who makes and keeps us holy against such pressure.  But where does He do this?

 

In the Gospel today, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” (Luke 11:28)  This, too, is the work of the Holy Spirit—to guard and keep the Word of God in our heart.  It is the Holy Spirit in you who guards the precious, life-giving Word within you!  Whenever you see the Spirit fighting against the desire to “be like the rest” and do what’s contrary to God’s Word, there you can assure your heart that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)  The Holy Spirit is more powerful than your sinful flesh, the devil, and the world.

 

Rest assured that it is continually God’s will to make you, as a believer in Christ, holy.  His desire is constantly to keep you in your faith—hearing the Law which exposes all unholiness in heart, mouth, and hand, and believing the Gospel which forgives all your sins.

 

Therefore, let us as children of God rejoice in our being made holy by God, set apart, being different from the world.  This isn’t because it’s a privilege to gloat of before others.  (Indeed it is a gift which God desires for every profane person.)  We rejoice in God our Savior because in Him we have true freedom and the pure knowledge of who we as human beings were created to be, and who He is as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:9, 10; also often translated as “elect” (Matt. 24:31, Rom. 8:33)

[2] https://blogs.lcms.org/2017/lyf-youth-poll-results

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