The Lord’s Day
June 11, 2006
“The New Walk
(1): More Reasons Why”
Dr. J. Ligon
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Ephesians 5, as we continue to work through this great book together. I
would simply draw your attention to this: When we moved from Ephesians 5:4,
the last verse that we studied last week, to Ephesians 5:5, the verse that we’re
going to begin studying this week, we moved into a new section of Paul’s
argument in this book.
Now if you’ve read ahead, and I trust that you have,
you have noticed that the subject matter in Ephesians 5:3-4, actually continues
in Ephesians 5:5, 6, and 7, and actually beyond. So why am I saying that we have
shifted into a new section? Because you will remember that from Ephesians 4:17
all the way down to Ephesians 5:4, the Apostle Paul is giving this great call
for us to live distinctively as Christians; and he says that it’s important for
us to live distinctively as Christians in this world for our unity, for the
glory of God, for our gospel witness in the world. And in that passage,
especially from verse 25 on, he gives six specific examples. The Apostle
Paul is not satisfied with giving general instructions; he gives specific
exhortations and instructions to us as Christians, and so he gives six specific
examples or areas in which he wants us to live out the Christian life, to walk
distinctively as Christians, to be different from the world, and we’ve been
going through those for the last number of weeks.
In verse 25, he focused on our truth-telling,
and it’s obvious to us how a group of people that get together, and they’re with
one another, but they don’t tell one another the truth–that people won’t be
unified, and they won’t bear a distinctive witness in a world that is filled
with lies, and with denial and with untruth; and so, the Apostle Paul calls us
to be truth-tellers.
And then we looked at verse 26 and verse 27, where
he dealt with the management of anger, and he said we’re not going to
sinfully express anger, and we’re not going to give way to sinful anger in the
context of the Christian community. We’re going to show how you deal with anger
by the gospel in this family, in this people of God, and thus we’re going to be
different from the world; and it’s going to foster the unity of the body, and
it’s going to bear witness to the glory of God.
In verse 28, he dealt with stealing, or with our
honesty. We’re going to be different from the world. We’re going to be
honest with people’s properties and goods.
In verses 29 and 30, he spoke about not grieving
the Holy Spirit with unwholesome or unedifying talk
Then we saw in verses 31 of chapter 4 to verse 2 of
chapter 5, the Apostle Paul zeroed in on the area of bitterness. Some of
you are captured by bitterness, but we’re going to be a people — rather than
being captured by bitterness, not trusting God’s loving rule and provision for
us — we’re going to be a people characterized by kindness and a great capacity
for forgiveness. We’re not going to be people who are shriveled up with
bitterness. And that’s one way we’re going to be different from the world, and
we’re going to enhance the unity of the body.
And then, last week we looked at the whole area of
sexual immorality and vulgar speech about sexuality, in Ephesians 5:3, 4.
I have this outlined for you on the sheet that is provided today, but Paul’s
point is that in these specific areas, these six areas, he wants us to be
distinct as Christians from the world, to live distinctly from the world
because of who we are, because of what God has done in us by His grace in Jesus
And one theme that we saw running throughout this is
that for a Christian, life is not centered on ourselves. For a Christian, life
is not ‘what’s in it for me? I’m looking out for #1.’ For a Christian, life
is not centered on ourselves; it is first of all centered on God. Our desire
is to glorify Him in everything. Our desire is to be like Him in everything, to
emulate His own character.
And furthermore, because God loves the church,
because the church is the apple of His eye, because He gave His own Son to
redeem the church, to make for Himself a people from every tribe and tongue and
race, God loves that church. And if we’re like God and have been made to be like
Him through His grace, we’re going to love His church, too, and so our ethics,
our behavior as Christians is going to be church-centered. In other
words, we’re going to be asking ourselves in the course of our speech and our
behavior, “How is what I am about to do going to edify the church? How’s it
going to build up the church? What is the impact of what I am about to do going
to be on the church?”
So we’re not only God-centered, but we’re
church-centered and other-focused. That is, our concern, again, is not just
for ourselves; it’s for the well-being of others, especially in the family of
God, but also outside the family of God–our neighbors who are not in Christ,
pagans, those who don’t worship the living God through Jesus Christ as He is
offered in the gospel (nevertheless who are made in the image of God, and
therefore we are going to be kind to them); we’re going to do good by them
insofar as it is left up to us.
And so the Apostle Paul throughout this passage is
calling us to a radically God-centered, church-centered, other-focused way of
Now, he’s in the middle of this discussion of sexual
immorality that runs from Ephesians 5:3 and on down, even past verse 7…why do
I say that we’re entering into a new section? Because he’s shifting from his
particular examples to the question of motivations: why do we do what we do as
You know, in large measure the song that the choir
just sang is about motivation. ‘Why is it,’ Christina Rossetti is asking
herself, ‘Why is it that I love God? What motivates me to love God?’ And you see
her in a very provocative way say, ‘You know, it is true that God by the
shedding of His Son’s blood saved me from hell, but that’s not the only reason I
love God.’ And she goes down a list of things, and she finally says ‘It’s
because You are who You are, God. You are altogether lovely. There is nothing in
this world more glorious than You. I love You because of You.’ It’s a glorious
list of reasons why a Christian might love God.
Well, the Apostle Paul is concerned to arm you
with motivations to live the Christian life, and, by the way, especially in this
area of sexual immorality, because the Apostle Paul knows that this is a
profoundly powerful sin. There’s a reason why this sin was listed amongst the
“Seven Deadly Sins.” The Apostle Paul knows the power of this sin. None of us
are immune from it.
All of us have certain sins that we are more or less
prone to, and they’re different for every single one of us. Our personalities
feed into it, our circumstances feed into it, the opportunities that come our
way feed into it. There are a variety of reasons why we are more or less
susceptible to this sin or to that. For instance, to this point in my life (it
could change the minute I step out of this pulpit), I have never had the
slightest inclination to gamble. Maybe it’s because I’m of Scottish descent, and
I’m too greedy to risk losing a few shekels, but it has never crossed my mind to
want to gamble! Now I could walk out of the pulpit, and I could be struck with
an overwhelming desire to head to the boats, OK? I’m not saying that I’m immune
to that, but I’m saying to this point in my life that has not been one of my
temptations. But it may well have been a tremendous temptation for you, and
maybe not only a temptation, but a temptation that has wrought some damage in
your life and in the life of your family. Because I haven’t had that temptation
doesn’t mean I’m more holy than you; in fact, it’s an interesting thing: John
Calvin says it is precisely the person who has dealt with a temptation and
overcome it who has cultivated a virtue that the person who has not had to
overcome that temptation does not have.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, I want you to
understand that if you have wrestled with any sin, and specifically this sin, I
don’t esteem you less for having wrestled — and even stumbled; I esteem you more
when you have wrestled and stumbled, and by God’s grace you have overcome,
because God has wrought a virtue in you in the painful process of overcoming sin
that perhaps I do not have myself, and which I need to learn from. So let’s
understand that right at the very outset.
But let’s also understand that the Apostle Paul
knows that this is a deadly sin, and so he wants to arm you with as many
arguments as he possibly can.
I’ve shared this story with you before, but it’s so
apropos to this I want to say it again. One of my dearest friends in life is a
ruling elder in another church, and during a very difficult time, he and some
other elders were called upon to help a young woman who was in a very, very
tight spot. She was facing a tremendous challenge in life, and they faithfully
pastored her and guided her through a section in life where she needed a husband
to help her with certain things, but she didn’t have a husband to help her with
those things, and so those elders and their wives came alongside of her and
filled in a gap in her life to help her.
Over the course of the months, though, this elder
friend of mine spent more time perhaps helping her than anyone else, and he felt
his heart being drawn to her. And he felt her heart being drawn to him, and it
scared him to death, and rightly so. That drawing power became so overwhelming
that at one point he literally listed all of the things that would happen if he
were to be unfaithful with his wife and to have an illicit relationship with
this woman. And God in His mercy used all of those arguments that he wrote down
on that sheet of paper in that dark night of the soul to keep him from stepping
across a line from which he perhaps may not have returned. And so he pulled back
out, and others came into that situation and carried on as they needed to.
But my point is he had to arm himself with
arguments: ‘You know, if I do this I’ll lose my wife, and I love my wife more
than anything else in the world. If I do this I’ll lose my children, and I love
them more than anything else. If I do this I’ll be disciplined by the church,
and there’s nothing more that I want than to serve in the church as a
shepherd….’ He had to make arguments as to why he couldn’t go that way.
And the Apostle Paul is so kind to give us
arguments because he knows that our souls need arguments, because temptation is
Now, you may be a man today and you’ve got perhaps a
marriage in which you don’t sense love and esteem in your wife, and along comes
an attractive woman. She’s in your workplace, or you meet her in some other
environment and she shows you attention and respect. And she’s attractive, and
she’s young, and she speaks to you like you think you ought to be spoken to, and
the way that you’re not being spoken to at home. And she’s affirming of you, and
she’s even flattering of you, and you feel your heart being tugged in that
direction. And the Apostle Paul is saying you need to understand that this
particular sin, husbands, is a sin that can lead you right out of the church,
right out of the kingdom, right into the very pit of hell. This is a sin that
can get hold of your heart. It can separate you from everything that is of value
in this life.
And it’s the same thing for wives, you understand. A
wife can be saying ‘Look, I don’t have a husband that is emotionally there for
me. He doesn’t understand me. He doesn’t care about me. He doesn’t spend time on
me.’ And then someone comes along that provides everything that he’s not
providing, and it seems so, so, right.
And maybe you’re a young person… ‘I’m young! I’m a
young guy…I’ve got hormones. She’s pretty, and I’m here, and there’s nobody
else here. Why not?’ Or maybe you’re struggling with a same-sex attraction. I
mean, there are 50,000 permutations on this thing of sexual immorality, aren’t
there? The Apostle Paul knows that they come in all varieties and great potency,
and that they pull on our soul; and so, the Apostle Paul is trying to arm us
with as many arguments in this as he can possibly give us.
Don’t you love that about the Bible? The Bible
doesn’t speak to us in vague generalities. You know, Paul doesn’t say ‘Now,
as for sexual immorality, one point: Don’t sin.’ That’s a little bit like…you
know, has your computer ever spoken to you? You’re writing out your Word
document, and suddenly the thing pops up: “Error Message: There has been a
fatal error. The computer will now shut down. OK?” Now, I want another
button other than OK! No, it’s not OK! I was just making my Word
document! Don’t tell me “There’s been a fatal error. The computer will now
shut down. OK?” It’s not OK!! That’s not…the information is not helpful
Or maybe you’ve been driving along in your car, and
the light comes on “Maintenance Required.” Well, what does that mean? I
mean, is the engine about to blow up? Do I need to immediately stop the car on
the side of the road and call AAA? I want to know! It doesn’t tell me.
But the Bible doesn’t do that to us. The Apostle
Paul knows that sins are specific, and they need specificity in response to
them, and so in his goodness he arms us with arguments so that we can battle.
Now, his motivations in this whole section from
Ephesians 5:5 all the way down through Ephesians 5:21 — and, by the way, there
are four of these motivations, so you would think that this would take me four
weeks to get through, but it’s going to take five, because I’m not going to get
out of Point One…in fact, I’m going to get half-way into Point One today, OK?
But he gives four motivations. But these are not
the only motivations the Apostle Paul gives. You may be thinking, look, the
motivation for the Christian life is grace…and of course you’re right. Grace
under girds everything that we do in the Christian life, and what I’m about to
say… in no way do I want to undermine the grace motivation for
Christian living, but I do want you to notice that in this passage that is not
one of the four motivations the Apostle Paul gives here–because the Apostle Paul
knows that when you face the hour of temptation, you better have as many
counter-motivations of the Spirit in your bag as you possibly can. And so
underlying all of these things are the overwhelming, transforming, transcending
reality of the grace of God in Christ to us, but the Apostle Paul gives us a lot
of arguments when it comes to sexual immorality.
For instance, in this
very passage if you look back to Ephesians 5:4, look at the final words:
“…there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are
not fitting, but rather the giving of thanks.”
He’s concluding that section — you’re not to be
sexually immoral, you’re not to be given over to sexual uncleanness, to sexual
coveting (coveting someone who’s not your wife or your husband), you’re not to
even be given over to vulgarity or coarse jesting or crude language about sexual
relations–but rather, he says, you are to give thanks.
Now think about that. That’s an interesting
thing. What do you mean? I’m not to be sexually immoral or sexually vulgar, but
I am to give thanks. What does that parallel? That’s not the parallel that I
Well, you see what the Apostle Paul is saying. The
Apostle Paul is saying this: ‘Christian, as a motivation to your holiness here,
understand what I’m saying to you when you have that urge to follow through on
sexual immorality. I’m not saying to you ‘Christian, you need to set aside that
desire for sexual fulfillment, and instead hope for heaven.’ Now understand me:
The Apostle Paul does want you to hope for heaven! He wants you to have the
reward of heaven, but that is not what he says here. He says instead of that
improper, illicit, illegal, unethical, unbiblical, immoral sexual fulfillment
that you want…instead, you need to give thanks for sexual relations as they
are expressed in the one proper relationship in which they are to be expressed,
which is a committed monogamous heterosexual marriage.
Isn’t it sad that we have to say that today? You
know, used to be, that a Christian man sat his son down and said, “Now, son,
when you start looking for a wife, the first thing you need to look for is a
godly Christian woman.” And that’s still good advice to give to a young man. But
now you have to sit him down and say, “Now, son, the first thing that you should
look for when you’re looking for a wife is a woman!” And you have to say to your
daughters, “Honey, when you start looking for a Christian husband…big point,
here: Make sure you look for a man!” Unfortunately we have to say that in our
And the Apostle Paul is not saying
‘Christians, put aside your desire for sexual fulfillment, and hope for heaven
instead.’ He’s saying ‘Christians, temptation says to you that there is no joy
like this unethical, immoral sexual fulfillment that you could experience in
this relationship.’ And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Uh-uh. Not even close to the
joy that can be experienced in the context of a committed, monogamous,
heterosexual marital relationship. That’s where it’s meant for. God built the
stuff, He knows how it works. Give thanks for it. You are to have esteem for
this gift that God has given.’
That’s why I kept saying last week we’re in a
fight for joy. This is not about Christians snuffing out desire for fulfillment.
It’s Christians realizing that fulfillment and satisfaction and joy can only
really happen in the places and the way that God says they can.
So that’s an argument that the Apostle Paul is
giving us there to refrain from sexual immorality, and the argument is not
‘Sorry, guys, you’re going to have to give up on sexual fulfillment. Just hope
for heaven instead.’ The argument is ‘No, no, no! Give thanks for this gift, and
realize that the realization of the joy intended from it is only found in
experiencing it in the way that God commands us to experience it.’
But that’s not the only argument that Paul gives
us to fight against sexual immorality. If we were to turn to I Corinthians
6:12-20, we would see him give an argument against sexual immorality in
Christians derived from the doctrine of the Trinity.
You know, a lot of you think that the doctrine of
the Trinity is the most speculative, mysterious, non-understandable thing you’ve
ever heard of: ‘It’s irrelevant, it’s impractical; couldn’t we move on to
something that really matters in my daily life?’
The Apostle Paul makes an argument for sexual purity
from the doctrine of the Trinity, and the argument goes like this:
God the Father made you. There’s a little
name tag on the back of your neck that says “Made by God” just like things that
you buy that say “Made in China.” Well, it says “Made by God.” In other words,
Paul is saying your body was made by God the Father.
Secondly, then he says ‘And that body of yours,
it belongs to Jesus Christ. It is, in fact, a part of Jesus’ body.’ So just
like those little tags that you have on your duffle bag in the locker room that
say “Property of Ligon Duncan”, it says “Property of Jesus Christ.” Belongs to
And then he argues that your body is actually
indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In other words, he’s saying that just as the
tabernacle and the temple were that place in which God visibly manifested His
nearness and presence and blessing to His people in the Old Testament, in the
new covenant God has made you, not only collectively but individually, to
be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. What an awesome thing that would have
been to early Christian believers who understood the theology of the temple and
the tabernacle here.
You know, many of us resonated. There was a former
President of the United States who said he had such reverence for the Oval
Office. He said that room, that office, that is the room of the people of this
great nation. And therefore he made it a point that he would never, ever enter
into the Oval Office in the White House without a jacket and a tie on. He said
‘I just can’t go there….’ It didn’t matter whether it was day or night,
whether he was there with officials or alone. Whenever he was there, he was
going to be there in his coat and in his tie, out of respect and reverence for
what that room represented to our nation.
And then some of us know of another President of the
United States who made that a place where he had the opportunity to carry out
his illicit, illegal, immoral sexual desires. And we are repelled by that very
thought. We resonate with the reverence of that one President, and we are
repulsed by the immorality of that other President, especially in that place
which is such a symbol of our nation.
And here’s the Apostle Paul saying something
greater: Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; don’t use that body for
immorality. Well, you see what he’s doing. He’s piling up motivations,
arguments, so that you can fight that fight.
Young person, college student, high school student,
graduate student, person who’s engaged, person who’s not engaged, person who’s
married, person who’s recently separated…doesn’t matter. There are 10,000
different ways that we can be tempted in this area, and the Apostle Paul is
piling on the arguments for us to be able to resist.
Now, that’s the Introduction!
Let’s pray and read God’s word.
Lord God, this is Your word, and it’s so serious.
We need to hear it. Speak to us, we beg You. Speak to us by Your Spirit, and
grant that we would respond as we ought to Your words, realizing that they are
not man’s words: they’re the very words of God. We ask this in Jesus’ name.
This is God’s word:
“For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous
man, who is an idolater, has an 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. Therefore do not be partakers with
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
I. No unrepentant sexually immoral person has the
rewards/blessings of the kingdom (5)
The Apostle Paul in this passage baldly, bluntly,
overwhelmingly says this: No unrepentant sexually immoral person has the
blessings or rewards or treasures or inheritance of the kingdom of God in
Christ. No unrepentant sexually immoral person has the blessings of the
kingdom. Listen to how he says it:
“You know with certainty that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who
is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying whatever
they claim, those who choose to go flatly against the commandments of God in
this area are manifesting the fact that they do not know grace, that they have
not experienced the saving, transforming, forgiving, gracious power of the
living God. And he is pointing to the fact that this particular sin is
peculiarly deadly, because it works deep into the hearts of men and women…of
young men and women, of older men and women, of men and women, period…it words
deeply into their hearts, and it separates them from the God whom they ought to
love and serve because they choose their illicit fulfillment and satisfaction
and pleasure over God.
And that is always the choice. God does not give us
the choice of ‘You can have Me and you can have that which I hate, and
you can have them both at the same time, no problem.’
He says ‘It’s Me and that which I love, or it
is that which I hate, without Me. That is your choice. But I do not come in the
package of Me and that which I hate; Me and, in fact, that which destroys you,
because I love you too much. I only come with this package: Me and that which I
love, that which is good for you, that which makes you whole, that which gives
you real joy. That’s the only way you can have Me. And if you decide not to have
Me that way, then you have decided that you don’t want My kingdom, you don’t
want My grace, you don’t want My joy, you don’t want My meaning, you don’t want
My satisfaction, you don’t want My fulfillment. But those are your options.’
And the Apostle Paul is saying to these
Christians…isn’t it interesting? He’s talking to Ephesians, about whom he has
already said that they have the inheritance of God through the Holy Spirit, and
he’s warning them of this deadly sin. Why? Because he knows how insidious it is.
He knows how it can work into the hearts of men and women and draw them away
from everything that is good, everything that is right, everything that is
precious, and just corrupt them.
And you say ‘But David sinned in this way, and God
forgave him.’ Yes, he did. In fact, that’s going to be one of my points. I don’t
know whether it will be this week or next week, but it’s going to be one of my
points that I want you to see what it cost David. David’s sin in this
precise area led to the destruction of Israel, friends! Do you understand
how cataclysmic that sin was? David’s sin in this area led to the destruction of
Israel. Not only was it a pox on him and led to the death of a child and a
fractured household in which there was never the fullness of love that there
ought to have been, but the very land that he loved the most, the people that he
loved the most, were fractured because of this sin. Do not make light of it!
Yes, God in His mercy and grace saved David out of it. Yes, but at what a price!
And the Apostle Paul is saying that there is a
peculiar power in this sin.
Now let me tell you what the Apostle Paul is
not saying. That’s probably all we have time for today.
The Apostle Paul is not saying
faith plus sexual purity equals salvation. He is not saying faith plus your
good works in avoiding sexual immorality and in being sexually pure will get you
into the kingdom and keep you there. He is not saying faith plus works equals
salvation. That is not what the Apostle Paul is saying. In fact, the New
Testament never says that.
You say, well, what about James? James says faith
without works is dead. Doesn’t that mean that faith plus works equals salvation?
No! Listen to what James says. Follow his math: Faith minus works equals–not ‘no
salvation’–but what? No faith. He’s telling you that a faith that is accompanied
by a life that continues without any display of true repentance, without any
display of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, shows that the
person–what?–never had faith in the first place. He’s not saying faith plus
works equals salvation. He’s trying to show you a way in which you can uncover a
claimed faith and distinguish it from a real faith.
So Paul’s point, by the way, is the same here. It is
not that faith plus you being good equals you being saved. Instead he is saying
that immorality, unrepented of in this area, uncovers a heart that does not know
God’s grace, and there is a certain judgment that is awaiting that sin. And as
dangerous as that sin is, my friends, I want you to understand that in the end
it will be not the sin but the unrepentance of it that is the undoing of the
sinner. You know, there are people in this room today, in this room today, whom
I love dearly, who have stumbled in precisely this area, and by the grace of God
through many trials of the heart, they have repented, they have come back, they
love the Lord, they are serving Him. But let me tell you: They are not flippant
about this sin.
The Apostle Paul is not saying what he is saying
here today to upset them, to unsettle their hearts, to bruise those already
bruised reeds or to extinguish those already smoldering flaxes. He is saying
this to the person who thinks that they can just go right down their merry way
in this direction with no consequences, and he is saying this: ‘You go there,
and you’re going to find yourself one day standing before a throne, and you’re
going to find yourself standing there before the throne with the people who
decided to go the way of fulfilling their desires and getting their joy and
their meaning and their satisfaction in the way that I said that I hate, because
it destroys them, and you’re not going to find yourself standing there with a
multitude of people who recognize their own weakness and their own sin, and
struggled with it and wrestled with it all their life, but who longed more than
anything else for the forgiveness and relationship that comes with God through
Jesus Christ, and have cast themselves on His mercy and His grace, and by His
grace they came to desire Him more than anything else. And you are going to find
yourself condemned. The Apostle Paul says ‘Christian, I love you too much
to see you there. I beg you, don’t…don’t go there.’
I’m already way overtime. Come back next week.
Our Lord and our God, we see so many, so many,
stumble right at this point. You’re so kind to tell us, to warn us about it
ahead of time in Your word. This one is so insidious, and so many of us are
helpless. Save us, spare us, hear us. Show us what’s happening in our hearts,
and give us a desire for something else. We beg you in Jesus’ name. Amen.