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How to Follow Jesus Today

Today’s Scripture Reference: Ephesians 5:1-17

“Like father, like son.” You’ve probably heard the expression. Whether that’s a young boy wanting to shave like Dad, or the imitation steering wheel my car seat had way back when to steer just like Dad, it is normal for boys to want to grow up to be just like Dad.

We return to the book of Ephesians with a passage that is very much about like father, like son. From the secure place of knowing God as your heavenly Father, his call to the Christian is to now imitate him. Grow to become more like him.  

Open your Bible with me to Ephesians chapter 5. It begins with a call to action that drives all that follows, urging:

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children…” That’s verse one. And this command flows from everything else we have covered so far, powerful revelations that:

  • If you confess Jesus as Savior and Lord, God has become your Father in heaven. 
  • You have spiritually been raised from the dead. 
  • God has given you new life. 
  • He has made you his son or daughter and adopted you into his family, with all the blessings that come from belonging to his family. 

From those stunning revelations flow the commands in this chapter.

And since we can’t wrap our arms around what it means to imitate God, Paul immediately shifts to the concrete example of Jesus, what it looks like to follow the Lord Jesus today. If holy means we are set apart for God, not the same-old, same-old that got the world as messed up as it is, today’s passage gets into the nitty gritty of what it looks like for us to follow Jesus as Lord today. If you’re taking notes, that’s the heading over everything.

Following the Lord today looks like: 

  • Loving sacrificially, as Jesus did. 

“…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.”

Ephesians 5:1-2

As Christians, God calls us to live a life of love modeled on the love that God has shown to us. And what is that? Radical love. Undeserved love. Sacrificial love. 

Normal is to take offence and give it right back, only harder. Normal is to grab as much as I can, for as long as I can, as though that’s the sole purpose of life. So following Jesus fundamentally means being abnormal. It means loving and forgiving when in the past you would cut the other person off or make them miserable for what they did. 

What does this have to do with Jesus? Go back just one week. Easter Sunday was preceded by Jesus’ betrayal, beating, and crucifixion. What example did Jesus set after experiencing evil and wrong done to him?

He prayed forgiveness for his executioners, and he extended forgiveness to his betrayers, including Peter. This is intensely practical Christianity. When I am hurt and shown hate, I will love sacrificially, like Jesus. I will follow him as Lord.

Sri Lankan Christian leader Ajith Fernando makes this point in today’s bulletin insert. He is a highly-respected Christian known for thinking biblically. Take the time to read it when you get home. He makes the case for Christians to respond biblically to persecution, violence, and even martyrdom—to respond as Jesus did. 

You may object, what about justice? The biblical answer is leave justice to those in authority, leave vengeance to God, and extend forgiveness to those who wrong you. 

  • Leave justice to those in authority;
  • Leave vengeance to God;
  • And extend forgiveness to those who wrong you.

That’s the way of Jesus. And it’s what every Christian is called to. Christ’s sacrificial love is the measure—and motive—how we are to love others, including those who hate us. 

Let’s get practical. Marriage and family are the greatest environment God created to make us more like him. In their book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson describe how fixation on our own righteousness can choke the life out of love. They write: “The vast majority of couples who drift apart do so slowly, over time, in a snowballing pattern of blame and self-justification. Each partner focuses on what the other one is doing wrong, while justifying his or her own preferences, attitudes, and ways of doing things. … Misunderstandings, conflicts, personality differences, and even angry quarrels are not the assassins of love; self-justification is.”

Quoted in David Zahl, “500 Years After Luther, We Still Feel the Pressure to Be Justified,” Christianity Today (12-30-16)

I think they’re spot on! Let me give you three steps toward loving like Jesus when you’re offended or wronged:

  • Release the right to revenge. Give it to God. That’s what Jesus did. Release the right to revenge.
  • Replace wanting to give pain with wanting the best for the other person. [repeat] Italians have the expression ti voglio bene. It’s a way they say “I love you,” but it literally means “I wish you good; I want what is good for you.” ti voglio bene is what Jesus did for you and me. We’re called to do the same for those who wrong us. Replace wanting to give pain with wanting the best for the other person.
  • Take concrete steps to rebuild the relationship. [repeat] Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

It doesn’t always work. It’s definitely not easy. But this is how we follow the Lord Jesus today—loving sacrificially. Forgiving and persevering.

Verses 3-7, following Jesus as Lord today means:

  • Living in purity, like Jesus did. 

What does it look like to live in purity like Jesus? Verses 3-7 tell us.

“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. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For 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. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.” 

Ephesians 5:3-7


Chapter five opens with the call to self-sacrifice; sacrificial love. Now it puts the spotlight on love’s opposite, which is self-indulgence. The focus shifts from love to lust. From contentment to greed. The Greek New Testament words for sexual immorality and impurity, which are porneia (from which we get pornography) and aktharsia, those two words together cover all sexual activity outside of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. 

Because God, knowing what is best for us, contrasts here what is pleasing and acceptable to him—behaviors that reflect holiness—up against those which provokes his wrath. 

Catch the twin motivations here: when you take seriously the love of God, and are motivated by his love to imitate him, it has a direct effect on everything from your thought life to what you do and don’t do. 

Likewise, if you take seriously that God is holy, and calls us to be holy, you pursue changing your habits and values to being holy. 

So the love of God and the holiness of God should never be put in opposition to one another. Both are given as motivators to pursuing purity, as Jesus did.

And when someone calls himself or herself a Christian but their lifestyle defies the kind of holiness called for here, they are deceived. They are, Paul makes clear, outside the kingdom of Christ and of God. In the language of Ephesians 2:1, they are still dead in their transgressions and sins. 

I received a friend request recently from a guy who was in our hometown fire department at the same time. It turns out he has since become a Christian! He belongs to a good church. He reads the Bible every day. And he wanted to get in touch to apologize for giving me a hard time for sharing my faith decades ago!

Here’s the connection to the passage: a year before I joined the fire department, I was engaged in the behavior warned against here: sexual immorality, impurity, obscenity, foolish talk and coarse joking.

Then God’s love and holiness on display in Jesus got a hold on me, and change began to happen. I’m still very much a work in progress. And now in this guy I used to serve alongside, God is repeating the process, motivating and producing change in him. God is amazing! The Lord wants to do a deep work in each of us, in the midst of a culture that puts way too much focus on sexual expression and greed, rather than self-control and contentment. 

Philip Yancey is someone who pulls us to think more deeply about sex. In a Christianity Today article titled “Holy Sex—How it Ravishes Our Souls,” Yancey makes a powerful point. He writes: “We [rub shoulders daily] with people who require compassion, tolerance, understanding, and an endless supply of forgiveness. So do our [spouses]. Such is the ironic power of sex: It lures us into a relationship, that offers to teach us what we need far more—sacrificial love.”

Source: Philip Yancey, “Holy Sex—How it Ravishes Our Souls,” Christianity Today (9-30-03)

Sex—one of the things God designed right into us—draws two people into the covenant of marriage, and then in that covenant commitment, we learn something far more important, which is sacrificial love; how to love far more like Jesus. Love is more important than sex. You wouldn’t know that from how sex is dangled before us in movies and advertising, but here’s the truth. Sacrificial love is more important than sexual fulfillment. Sacrificial love is more important than sexual fulfillment. 

While we’re on controversial ground, notice that greed is put on par with sexual immorality. Here’s why: because the longing for sexual fulfilment, and the longing for financial security, are both good and come from God. But when we chase either of those things outside of God’s design, they can become idols that take God’s place. He gets the back seat rather than the steering wheel, gas, and brakes. That’s what idolatry is. Jesus is not in fact Lord of your life. Something else is.

I’ve learned a lot from Stuart Briscoe. He’s someone I deeply respect. To these verses he concludes, “If we believe certain things about the love of God, and we believe certain things about the wrath of God, we will embrace that which comes from the love of God and seek to imitate it in the power of the Spirit, and we will avoid like the plague that which merits the wrath of God.” That strikes me as a clear summary of verses 3-7. Following the Lord Jesus today means living before the Father in purity, like Jesus did. 

Source:  Sermon The Lifestyle of a Believer, S. Briscoe

Following the Lord today means:

  • Leaning into God’s will—as Jesus did. 

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

‘Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.’

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
Ephesians 5:8-17

There’s a shift here from pursuing holiness based on the future (the wrath of God to come on the disobedient), to also pursuing holiness based on the past and present—meaning, the difference between what you once were, and who you now are as a dearly loved child of God. 

The whole paragraph plays off the contrast between darkness and light—darkness representing evil, light representing holiness. 

We hear testimonies all the time from people who somewhere along the way started to feel an inner dissatisfaction, that there has to be something more than more stuff. They hear the good news of Jesus, the Holy Spirit turns the lights on inside, and they fall in love with Jesus. They begin to change. They start pursuing the kind of sacrificial love and dedicated holiness we see in Jesus. He’s the one you want to become more and more like. Less religion, more Jesus!

It’s like last Sunday. It started out incredibly foggy, hard to see while driving. But then the wind kicked up and the sun burned through, and it turned into a gorgeous Easter. 

What the wind and sun did last Sunday, Paul says, Christ does when you trust in him. He blows away confusion and deception over what’s right and what’s wrong. He calls us to pursue “goodness, righteousness and truth, and find out what pleases theLord.” Implication: not everything does please the Lord. Find out what pleases him. Wake up and start walking in the light of God’s Word.

Verse 11 says…

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

What that means is show evil acts for what they really are. Abortion, for example, is taking the life of any innocent child. That’s what it is. We expose that, in order to protect unborn children, and to help couples in crisis pregnancies make the better choice. 

Where does that perspective come from? The Scriptures: we see the Hebrew midwives in Exodus disobeying Pharaoh’s order to kill their newborn males. That account sheds light on how we ought to value a child growing in its mother’s womb.

We hear Psalm 139 singing, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) 

That’s a Scripture that sheds light on the value of a person even before they are born. Verses like these also expose the truth so that couples in a crisis pregnancy can see through the fog of their fear and choose life for that child. For me this is deeply personal, as I will forever be grateful that our daughter’s birth parents did not choose abortion, even though in some ways it may have been the easier choice.

Finally verses 15-17, we are called to…

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

Don’t be a fool. Don’t waste your life on things that will prove to be worthless in eternity. Another translation says, “Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.”

Go back with me to Easter. When the first followers of Jesus realized he was and therefore Lord, they devoted themselves for the rest of their lives, to precisely what this passage urges. They changed. They became different men and women, so different that both their Jewish peers and Roman authorities noticed. They became radically different in how deeply they loved one another, even sacrificially. They became radically different in contentment and self-control, in place of greed and sexual immorality. 

They made the most of every opportunity in their evil days. They became no longer naïve. They became no longer deceived. We, like they, are called to become wise, discerning truth from error and right from wrong amidst a culture that sometimes calls up down and left right. We’re called to lean into God’s will, as Jesus did.

I’m not saying for a moment that this is easy. Jesus never claimed that following him would be easy. What it is, is worth it. So I want to end with a caution. Martin Lindstrom in his book Brandwashed shows how without discerning that it’s happening, we are all influenced by peer pressure. 

He describes an experiment at Leeds University where people were instructed to walk aimlessly around a large room, without talking with each other. So there’s no verbal persuasion. 

But—what the majority didn’t know was that the researchers had given just a few of the people detailed instructions on where, precisely, they should walk. 

When the individuals set out on their aimless wandering around the large hall, what took place, no matter how few or many there were in the experiment, everyone ended up mindlessly following the handful of people who appeared to “know where they were going.”

Listen carefully to their conclusion: “The research suggests that humans flock like sheep and birds, subconsciously following a minority of individuals,” and that it takes a mere 5 % of [so-called] ‘informed individuals’ to influence the direction of a crowd of up to two hundred people. The other 95 percent trail along without even being aware of it…”

The common name for what they proved…is peer pressure. If “everyone” is saying this is cool, is normal, is good, then the overwhelming majority will fall for it. Jesus says, “Don’t be duped. Be very careful. Learn to discern. Follow me.”

Ultimately, your life will be a series of forks in the road. At each fork, you need to discern and decide which road you’ll take: the way of the crowd, or the way of Christ. 

Matt Woodley, managing editor, PreachingToday.com; source: Martin Lindstrom, Brandwashed (Crown Business, 2011), p. 104-108

Watch what God does, and then do that, like deeply loved children learn to discern right and wrong from their parents.

If you realize this morning there is sin you need to confess, Communion is a very appropriate time and place to do that. Whether that’s a lack of love, unforgiveness, whether it is sexual immorality or any other kind of impurity, or greed, or obscenity, foolish talk, filthy humor—any of the things because of which God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient…

As you hold the bread and cup of Communion, call that thing what God calls it: sin. Ask for Christ’s forgiveness, and ask for the Holy Spirit’s power to grow in love and holiness. 

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