Walk in Love — Part Two
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Walk in Love — Part Two

Ephesians 5:3–4  (ID: 3251)

The believers at Ephesus were surrounded by a culture unraveling due to idolatry and immorality. The apostle Paul therefore gave them very specific directives about how to live in holiness and purity. Alistair Begg walks carefully through what it means for every believer, transformed by the Gospel, to walk according to God’s love and high standards. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, our hearts are transformed to respond with thankfulness for God’s gift of salvation, and our new identity motivates us to please Him.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Ephesians, Volume 8

Love, Light, Wisdom Ephesians 5:1–20 Series ID: 14908

Sermon Transcript: Print

Ephesians 5:1:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you 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. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”


Father, with our Bibles open, we humbly pray for the help of the Holy Spirit so that we might not only understand what it says but that we might have a life-changing encounter with you, the living God. There’s no way that this can happen just as a result of the voice of a mere man, so we look away beyond it, to you. Meet us, we pray. For Christ’s sake. Amen.

Well, the verses to which we give our attention this morning are verses 3 and 4. We saw last time, when we looked at this, we gathered our thoughts under the simple phrase “Walk in Love,” which you will see is right there in verse 2. I determined that that was such a good title that I would use it again and call this “Walk in Love 2.” You can see I really spend a long time on thinking what to call things during the week.

But it is very important that we understand that there is no incongruity between the exhortation in 1 and 2 and then this striking statement in verses 3 and 4. We ended last time by noticing that the love about which Paul is speaking is a love that he defines in terms of the sacrifice of Jesus. And we ended by acknowledging that that sacrifice is voluntary, it is propitiatory, and it is substitutionary. Christ dies on behalf of sinners.

And so, Paul has opened this fifth chapter by making it clear that the believers in Ephesus are to have lives which are then marked by self-sacrifice and, in verses 3 and 4 and following, to understand that that means that they have to say no to self-indulgence. And it is this issue that confronts us here in verses 3 and 4. If we’re tempted to think that part one of the exhortation is somehow comfortable—“Walk in love”; it sounds nice; it is nice—it is actually far more uncomfortable than we realize, in that Paul is defining it in clear terms and expects it to be displayed in that way. So, we’re not able to invent for ourselves what it means for us to walk in love.

And when we come to the second section, if we thought the first was comfortable, then we realize that the second dimension is actually radical. It is radical. It’s impossible to read verses 3 and 4 without saying to ourselves, “This is a severe and stirring and striking statement.” And it is to this we must give our attention. That’s one of the values of going through the Bible systematically and consecutively: it stops you from jumping over parts you might like to skip. And here, you may find yourself in one.

We’re going to look at it from three aspects, or along three lines. First of all, by paying attention to Paul’s audience. Who is Paul addressing here? Secondly, by considering how high God’s standards actually are. And thirdly, by understanding, hopefully, that it is only through the gospel that any of us can ever live in this way.

Paul’s Audience

So, first of all, then, let’s notice that Paul is not admonishing the culture; he is addressing the church. Okay? He is not admonishing the culture; he is addressing the church. And it is of vital importance that we grasp this. Because I find in myself a tendency, in coming to verses like this, to immediately apply them to somebody else—and particularly, if we’re within the framework of a Bible-believing, -trusting church, to come to verses like this and say, “Well, this, of course, is the kind of thing that our culture desperately needs a lesson on.” And then we find ourselves sort of isolating ourselves from the impact of the text, and we daren’t do that.

This is not for a culture that has no interest in God, but rather, it is for a church that has committed itself to God. And Paul is making it clear that immorality and idolatry—of which covetousness is a part—this immorality and idolatry is not to be part and parcel of the Christian community. And, of course, this was very, very difficult for the people in Ephesus, because as we’ve seen, the skyline, really, of Ephesus was dominated by the Temple of Artemis, or the Temple of Diana. And she was the goddess of fertility. And so the culture was filled with all kinds of elements of sexual impropriety that were just endemic to the nature of what it meant to live in Ephesus. The average person in the street would have thought nothing of it. Indeed, many of them, as you read Acts 19, would have been very happy to buy these little shrines of Artemis of the Ephesians and take them to their home as good luck charms or as reminders to them of how important this actually was.

Of course, we don’t have to stretch too far to realize that while we may not have a great dominating temple over the cities of the United States of America now, in the twenty-first century, it is clear that we face a similar challenge. And so, let us be absolutely clear: Paul is not condemning the culture; he is exhorting the church. All right? We may want it to be the other way around, but it isn’t the other way around. And he has been making it clear that the recipients of this instruction are those who have been called to be saints. Okay?

And we’ve seen from the very beginning of the letter that saints, contrary to many popular notions, are not a rarified group of individuals who are canonized long after they’ve died as a result of their excessive piety, or whatever it might be, but rather, the way the New Testament uses it is of those who have been included in Christ, who have been set apart from their life as it was in Adam by nature and set apart to a whole new life as it now is in Christ. And that’s why long before Paul gets to any of these exhortations, long before he comes to these imperative statements—“This is what is to be”—he has given to us all of these indicative statements so that we might then understand our identity in Christ and on the strength of that realize that there are elements that go along with that because of who we are.

Paul is not condemning the culture. He is exhorting the church.

So, he is addressing those who are saints and who are described here in verse 1 as “beloved children.” Right? The “beloved children,” adopted into God’s family—and he really loves his children. We said last time that the greatest, most impressive love of an earthly parent for their child does not even come close to the love of God the Father for those who are his own in Jesus—that he loves us. “How he love[d] us with great love,”[1] as we sang about it in Fernando’s song. And the love of God for us is something that we need never doubt. Adopted into his family and his “beloved children.”

God’s Absolute Standards

As a result of that, there are privileges that we enjoy and there are responsibilities that we face. Just as we said last time, there is an obligation, then, to display the family likeness. And that is why Paul is using language here that has to do with what is proper or what is improper; what is appropriate, what is inappropriate; what is in place and what is out of place. It’s almost amazingly antiquated, isn’t it? I mean, I think those of you who are in the scientific world and deal in the realm of experimentation and deal with the importance of making sure that there are clean spaces and that there are secure spaces and everything, you’re very, very clear: “Now, we can’t put that in there, and that shouldn’t be in there. That would not be the place to put this. We couldn’t have that there.”

In fact, we understand the nature and the importance of being negative. One of the great concerns of people is “Well, we don’t like the Bible. It’s so negative.” Well, I’ve found a lot of negativity out there myself. There’s a very negative response of the culture to tobacco. But because that now is perfectly acceptable, and James Dean is no longer alive, we can all embrace that and feel very good about ourselves. Or we can adopt that. But as soon as we come up against something that actually challenges our life and our lifestyle, then, of course, we want to adjust.

There is that which is proper, and there is that which is improper. And the same is true in the world of art—unless, of course, you are a postmodern artist, in which case up is down and down is up, and in is out and out is in. And you can put the trees going up, or you can put them coming down, or sideways, or put them any way you want. If you’re an old fogey like me, you look at that and go, “I don’t understand this at all. I thought the sky was up there, and I thought that the ground was down here, and I thought the river went there.” “Oh, no, no, no. No, no, you don’t have to do that. No.”

Well, you see, that’s why, years ago—was it Rookmaaker wrote the book Modern Art and the Death of a Culture?[2] That there is a definite correlation between our understanding of structure in the universe, the nature of the creative handiwork of God, and the way in which we give expression to that. So, in the same way that God is himself holy, therefore, the family are to be marked by holiness too. So what Paul is saying is that the immorality and the vulgarity and the idolatry is not to be present amongst the community of God’s children, and in this way, we’re supposed to be markedly different from our pagan neighbors.

When I was thinking about what is proper and what is improper, I went to my notebook here, which I carry with me all the time and I had with me in England, and I had put this in after I’d been speaking for a couple of days at the Keswick Convention. It’s because of this notion of what is proper. And I had gone there, and on the first day I went in, and I was in my jacket and collar and tie, and I realized I was the only one out of four thousand dressed in that way. And then, on the second day, the Tuesday, I said, “Well, I brought this stuff; I might as well wear it.” So I wore it again. And then when I went back to my room, I said, “This is no good. If you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em.” So, the next day, I decided to go very much like this. And I was, like, one verse away from stepping up to give my expositions on the psalm when somebody tapped me on the shoulder, and I didn’t see who it was, but they passed down this note to me, which reads, “What has happened to your jacket and tie? We so appreciated the man of God declaring the Word of God dressed properly.”

Well, I get that. That’s why I was dressed properly. I don’t dismiss that. But this is far more significant than whether you’re wearing a tie or not. Look at what Paul says: “Sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness mustn’t even be named among you. Filthiness, foolish talk, crude jokes—they’re out of place.” “Out of place.”

So, what he’s saying is this: “Now, you Ephesian believers living in this framework, you gotta make sure that you don’t allow the prevailing standards of a godless culture to influence your thinking in such a way that what is morally abnormal you start to think of as normal.” “That what is morally abnormal you start to think of as normal.” And that, of course, is not a challenge that is lost to us in first-century Ephesus. It is a constant challenge for us in our contemporary seeking to follow Jesus. The influence of the thought forms and sexual mores of our day is so prevailing and so impressive and so constant in its bombardment that unless we bring our lives under the jurisdiction of the Bible—unless we’re prepared to say, “Believing the Bible for me means I actually believe the Bible, and to believe it means I actually do what it says and I try not to do what it says I’m not supposed to do”… Otherwise, it’s just a sort of ancient book to be considered and to find blessed thoughts in and keep the parts that you like and get rid of all the bits you don’t want. But that can’t be.

And so it brings us, secondly, to face the fact that God’s standards are absolute and they’re high. God’s standards are absolute and they’re high. I don’t think it’s particularly helpful for me to unpack each of these phrases here. I did that in my study, but I think we can safely say, “We get it.” Right? I mean, the average ten-year-old can read this and say, “I understand exactly what he’s saying.” And so do we. He is not calling the church to accommodate itself to the thinking of the surrounding culture, but he is actually calling the believers in Ephesus to avoid not just the practice but even thinking about and talking about these things.

That’s why I say to you that the standard is incredibly high. Notice, he’s not saying, “Don’t do this.” He’s saying, “Don’t even include this in your interpersonal relationships with one another. Do not allow this kind of sexual nonsense to become the framework in which the people of God engage with one another on these matters.” He’s going to go on later on and say, “It is a shame to even talk of the things that are done by them in secret.”[3] That’s a high standard! You’re not going to find this, really, anywhere else. Perhaps in sections of Islam there will be striking statements along similar lines—without any gospel.

But no, it’s impossible for us to miss it. Notice what he says: “Sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness must not even be named.” In the NIV, the translation is “There must not [even be] a hint of...” “A hint of.” And so it’s a radical deal. That’s the great question. Those of you who are in the medical world, you’re dealing with oncology all the time. The point is we want all of it, and we want all of it gone. What advantage is there to say, “Well, why don’t we just keep a little section so we remember what it’s like?” No, no good oncologist wants to do this. They go in, they say, “Let’s remove as much as we can, let’s radiate the rest of it, and let’s deal with chemotherapy, and let’s get this out of here.” That is the language of Paul here. That’s his language. It’s not an accommodation: “Well, we couldn’t…” No. Gone. Banished.

Now, later in the chapter, he’s going to describe the pattern, God’s covenant of marriage, down in verse 22 and on. I’m sure many of you can’t wait for us to get there—especially the husbands, in terms of verse 22. But what he’s doing here is he is setting aside—he is disengaging, if you like—every kind of sexual sin that works against the covenant of marriage. Every kind.

And here, you see, is God’s striking standard: the nature of God’s purpose in the realm of human sexuality is within the framework of a covenant relationship that is heterosexual, that is monogamous, and that is lifelong. Everything and anything outside of that is actually abhorrent to a holy God. The fact that a culture has rejected that, the fact that a culture is filled with that, only heightens the responsibility of the people of God to say, “No, we’re actually different.” And the line of demarcation that is being drawn at this point in our culture, in the Western world right now, is not… The expression of our commitment to the exclusive claims of Jesus, the authority and inerrancy of the Bible, is being tested in this realm, in this matter of sexuality. And God does not deviate from his standards.

I don’t want to go through the list, as I say. The first word there is porneía, and you know that word because it gives us our word pornography. The second word, “immorality,” akatharsía, is a comprehensive term in relationship to all that sets itself against the purity and purposes of God. And funnily enough, “covetousness” is there—a form of idolatry. Why covetousness? Has this got to do with money? Well, I suppose it always has to do with money. We’re tempted there. But given the context, surely he’s thinking in terms of the tenth commandment: “Covet not your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant.”[4] “Don’t do it,” he says. Well, why would he have to give this instruction? ’Cause we’re tempted to do it.

This is not irrelevant information for people that are beyond this. This is not an opportunity for the church in Ephesus to say, “Well, this is something we ought to take out into the community and publish for everybody to pay attention to.” That’s not what Paul is saying. Paul is saying, “Listen! You declare yourself to be a follower of Jesus Christ? Let me tell you how it works. Let me tell you where it will be seen in a dramatic way in Ephesus. It will be seen in this realm.” The family of God is to be marked by sanctity. And consequently, we cannot allow ourself the privilege that we’re tempted to of dirty jokes and smutty information that is part and parcel of those who do not know better or who actually do know but don’t care.

Well, what will we put in its place? “Sexual immorality … impurity … covetousness must not … be named among you, as is proper among [the] saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” How is thanksgiving an antidote to all of this? Wouldn’t you think it would have said, “So there shouldn’t be immorality; there should be morality. There shouldn’t be this; there should be purity.” Well, of course! But he doesn’t use that. Says, “But thanksgiving.”

Well, then I had to sit for a long time, chewing my pencil, thinking about this. And I’m not sure I’ve got it entirely, but it took me back to Romans chapter 1. And you remember in Romans 1 where Paul is laying out the way in which God has made himself known in the world. And he says in Romans 1:19, “What can be known about God is plain to them”—that is, to men and women. Why? “Because [he] has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, [and] namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Here we go: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” The missing element: taking the good gifts from the Creator, denying their source, and degrading them by the way in which we abuse them.

You read on in Romans chapter 1, and what does he say? God gave them over, as a result of this to idolatry, to immorality.[5] In other words, the judgment of God is expressed in an unraveling culture, showing itself in the very arena that was so prevalent in Ephesus, which made it so important that Paul would say to these Ephesian believers, “You want to go out and tell people you love Jesus? Let me tell you where you’re going to make the greatest impact: if you yourselves, when you gather, make sure that you have no desire to include this in your conversation and in your lifestyle.”

You see, what God wants us to do with the gifts that he has given is thank him. Victorian England—you know, Queen Victoria herself, she didn’t look like… Well, I’m going to leave that aside. Victorian England was regarded as repressive in relationship to sexuality, and not least of all in terms of the church. So people say, “You know, if you’re a Christian, that’s definitely out. And if it’s in, you certainly can’t enjoy it, right?” So, the Bible says, “No, you’re absolutely wrong. You got that wrong. These are the good gifts of God, including this. Therefore, we don’t degrade it by taking it at the wrong time with the wrong person. We thank him for it by taking it at the right time with the right person. Because he, the Creator, knows how this thing works perfectly, and he has put it in that framework so that it may be enjoyed in its totality.” Our culture—the Ephesian culture says, “No! Diana of the Ephesians is the way to go. That’s why we have the activities all around the temple and the availability of this all around the temple”—in the same way that we have before us today.

You see, Paul began his letter by reminding his readers of the purpose of God. “He chose us,” 1:4. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be”—notice this, listen to this—“that we should be holy and blameless before him.” What is God’s purpose in saving you? Not so that your life is going to work out beautifully. Not so that you get answers to all your difficult questions. Not so that you’re going to be Miss Happy. God’s purpose in saving us is to make us holy and blameless in his sight.

Now, once we grasp that, it helps with a lot of things. Because if we determine that the reason that God has chosen to include us in his family is in order that it all may go well with us, what the world do we do when it doesn’t go well with us? How do we handle the fact that our loved ones die? How do we face the challenges and changes just of our everyday existence: that the jigsaw puzzle is all over the place, and we can’t get it all to fit together, and this is my lot in life, and God is supposed to be making me happy. No, he’s not! He’s committed to making us holy.

Sex is a good gift of God. Therefore, we don’t degrade it by taking it at the wrong time with the wrong person. We thank him for it by taking it at the right time with the right person.

That explains C. S. Lewis—I quote it all the time; I make no apology for it—but that explains C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. Remember what he says about Jesus coming to live in our lives as a house. He says, “God comes in to rebuild [the] house.” And “at first … you can understand what He[’s] doing”: basic repairs. But then “He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does[n’t] … make sense.” What’s the explanation? “You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it [by] Himself.”[6]

You see, when I sin, I don’t sin in isolation from Jesus. It’s not possible for me to say, “I’m taking the Jesus thing off for fifteen minutes here so I can go over here and then deal with this.” No. First Corinthians: What is he saying? “If you do this,” he says, “You drag Jesus in there with you. You’re not there on your own. You can’t park him somewhere, go and engage, and then return. He comes. He indwells you.”[7]

Because the reality of our Christian experience is not simply that Christ lives in me but that sin lives in me and that the propensity of my heart is to go the broad road rather than the narrow road, to take the easy fix rather than the right fix, to do that which is immediately acceptable to me, pleasing to me, and I want no delayed gratification; I want it all now! And after all, I’m supposed to be happy.

No, you’re not! God is making you holy. Painful process. Radical process. It concerns not only my conduct but also my conversation, concerns not only my deeds but my desires. Oh, there we go. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount: “I say to you…”[8] You know how it finishes.

The Possibility of This Life through the Gospel

So, we need to be clear that this is not an admonishment for a culture; it is an address to a church, the saints and the beloved children. That the standards of God are absolute and they’re incredibly high. And that when we find ourselves saying, “I don’t think anybody can possibly do this,” we finally come to our third and closing point, and that is that living in this matter is only possible through the gospel. That living in this matter is only possible through the gospel.

Again, remember the balance of the letter. How has Paul begun? He has begun by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has chosen you before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”[9] And the logic of that doctrine, the logic of what that actually means, is not along the lines of “I have been chosen for salvation, so I can live any way I please,” but “I have been chosen for salvation, and therefore, I will live in a way that pleases God.”

You see, it’s really all about understanding our identity. You know, we gotta answer the question “Who am I?” You know, and our culture addresses that all kinds of ways. At the moment our culture says, “I am my gender,” or “I am my nongender”; “I am my sexuality,” or “I am my intellect,” or “I am my looks,” or “I am my success.” Whatever it is. Who are you? Tell me about yourself.

What is the answer for the child of God? “I am a new creation, no more in condemnation. Here in the grace of God I stand.”[10] “I’m not perfect. I’m a sinner. I am trying to ‘work out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling.’[11] But this is who I am. I don’t always look like it. I don’t always act like it. But this is who I am. This is not something I did. This is something he did. He chose me ‘before the foundation of the world.’[12] I don’t understand it. When I push back and back—‘Why was I born here? Why did I have this teacher? Why did the person tell me that?’—I finally get back to God. Let God be God.”

My identity. Do you know who you are? Are you able to say, “I am a man in Christ”? “I am a lady in Christ”? Are you able to say to yourself, talk to yourself, “Jesus came to die for sin—sin that still lurks in my heart. The Holy Spirit has come to indwell my life, to deliver me from the sin for which Jesus died.” So the way I handle it is not to try and make myself something I’m not but to remind myself of something that I am “by grace … through faith.”[13]

“Christ bled and died for this sin, so I’m going to have nothing to do with it.”

“Oh, but I want to!”

“Got that part! But it’s your identity.”

You see—and I must finish—if you’ve lived any length of time (which, apparently, many of you have), it is clear that all the endeavors of various social and government agencies to fix stuff by education or by legislation—particularly, let’s just stay in this moral realm—all of their endeavors, no matter how well they go for a while, they are eventually futile, because they cannot change the heart of a man or a woman. Education can’t do it. Otherwise, nobody would smoke. Legislation can’t do it. The courts are filled with litigation.

Now, what do we need? We need a power outside of ourselves. We need somehow or another, somehow, somebody, somewhere who can do this. We need Jesus; that’s what we need! That’s what the Bible says. As you think about these storms that are raging all around, and you read the Gospels, and there you’ve got these disciples, and they’re on the boat, and they wake Jesus up to tell him, “Jesus, I thought you should know, we’re all dead men. We’re all going to drown.”[14] So, they tell the Creator of the universe that he’s about to cop it. And he stands up, and he says to the winds and the waves, “Peace! Be still!”[15] Either it’s true or it isn’t true. There’s only one person I’ve heard of that can stand up and say, “Stop this right now.” Who is he? He’s the same person who starts the storms and stops the storms. He’s the same person who makes the ice form. He’s the same person that brings the deluge upon the nations. He is that same Lord and God. And the identity of the believer is wrapped up in him: “This is who I am. I am a man in Christ.”

Necessity, Responsibility, Ability

So, what am I to do? Well this is where the NRA comes in. Up in the sound room they’re reaching for the edit button: “Whoops!” No, you heard it here. This is where the NRA comes in. Not the National Rifle Association. Three words.

Number one: necessity. What am I to do? It is absolutely necessary that I do. “Seek [these] things [which] are above”—Colossians 3—“where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”[16] And “put to death” this and do that.[17] Necessity.

R, responsibility. Whose responsibility is it? Mine! Do I not just sit on a couch and wait for it all to happen? No, I have a responsibility: to bomb the landing strip, to deal with it.

A, ability. Ability. Where does the ability come from? The enabling power of the Holy Spirit. If you go away and get home and read, for example, in Romans 6: “For sin will [not have] dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”[18] The grace of God has reached to me and has made me a new creation.[19]

But you know what I’ve discovered? I haven’t learned much in the course of my life, but I’ve learned certain things, and one is this: people do what they want. People do what they want. And you’re going to go out of here and do what you want as well. You’ll do what you want. That’s why, you remember, when Jesus comes to the people at the people at the Pool of [Bethesda], he says to the man, “Do you want me to make you well?”[20] “Do you want me to?” What a strange question! But the man may have decided, “I’ve been thirty-four years like this; I’ve grown accustomed to it.” Remember what Augustine said? “Lord, make me pure, but not yet!”[21] “Maybe start me Monday. We’ve got a big weekend coming up. Make me pure, but not yet.”

Two quotes and we’re done, one from Oscar Wilde and one from J. C. Ryle.

Oscar Wilde, before the end of his life, said, “I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetops.”[22] See, Wilde finally faced up to that fact, but what Wilde did not know is the wonder of God’s Word that “with you there is forgiveness,”[23] that “with you” there is the eradication of the record, there is the rewriting of the story, there is the fresh start and the new beginning. This is the wonder of the gospel: that God in Christ reconciles us to the Father.[24]

And the quote from J. C. Ryle. Thinking along these lines this week, I went to his book on Thoughts for Young Men. And he talks about the fact that God is no respecter of persons and that God is not measuring us in relationship to the things that we’re tempted to use to measure ourselves: intellect, finance, status in society, and so on. Ryle says to the young men who are his readers—he says, “You see, God is only measuring in relationship to our souls.”[25] And he says, “Do not forget this. Keep in view, morning, noon, and night, the interests of your soul. Rise up each day desiring that it may prosper”—that is, your soul. “That it may prosper,—lie down each evening inquiring of yourself whether it has really [got on]. Remember Zeuxis, the great painter of old.” Never heard of him apart from here. “Remember Zeuxis, the great painter of old. When men asked him why he labored so intensely, and took such extreme pains with every picture, his simple answer was, ‘I paint for eternity.’”[26] “I paint for eternity.”

Do not be ashamed to be like him. Set your [immortal] soul before your mind’s eye, and when [people] ask you why you live as you do, answer them in his spirit, “I live for my soul.” Believe me, the day is fast [coming] when the soul will be the one thing men will think of, and the only question of importance will be this, Is my soul lost or [is my soul] saved?”[27]

And it is because in Jesus the answer is provided and because in Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, the ability is conveyed that those of us who know ourselves to be sinful people are encouraged again and again to look away from ourselves to all that Christ has done for us and is to us in the gospel, thereby enabling us to take seriously not only verses 1 and 2 but also verses 3 and 4.

Father, help us, then, we pray, to guard our hearts, to fill our minds, and help us not to try and go it on our own but to find in the family of God the people and the places with whom we’re able to be honest and those who will pray with us and for us and help us. We thank you that in the Lord Jesus Christ we have one who is our Redeemer, that he redeems our life from the pit, that he crowns us with love and with tender mercies,[28] that the good work that he begins in us he brings to completion one day.[29]

Lord, some of us just are living out there on our own, and we’re not engaged. Help us to understand why it matters that we belong. Some of us, Lord, are confronted by the fact that our behavior is just a double standard, and we’ve come to you and asked for forgiveness and for a fresh start. Some of us have never believed. May today be that day. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.

[1] Fernando Ortega, “Children of the Living God” (1998).

[2] H. R. Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 1994).

[3] Ephesians 5:12 (paraphrased).

[4] Exodus 20:17 (paraphrased).

[5] See Romans 1:24–32.

[6] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2000), 205.

[7] See 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19–20.

[8] See Matthew 5:28.

[9] Ephesians 1:3–4 (paraphrased).

[10] Dave Bilbrough, “I Am a New Creation” (1983).

[11] Philippians 2:12 (ESV).

[12] Ephesians 1:4 (ESV).

[13] Ephesians 2:8 (ESV).

[14] Matthew 8:25; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:24 (paraphrased).

[15] Mark 4:39 (ESV).

[16] Colossians 3:1 (ESV).

[17] Colossians 3:5 (ESV).

[18] Romans 6:14 (ESV).

[19] See Galatians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17.

[20] John 5:6 (paraphrased).

[21] Augustine, Confessions 8.7.17. Paraphrased.

[22] Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, 12th ed. (London: Methuen, 1908), 34.

[23] Psalm 130:4 (ESV).

[24] See 2 Corinthians 5:19.

[25] J. C. Ryle, Thoughts for Young Men, rev. ed. (Amityville, NY: Calvary, 1993), 49. Paraphrased.

[26] Ryle, 49. Emphasis added.

[27] Ryle, 49–50.

[28] See Psalm 103:4.

[29] See Philippians 1:6.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.