Chapter Onesession one
Holiness - Being Like Him Ephesians 4:17-5:20
John had always been known among his friends for his filthy language. Every sentence that came out of his mouth was sure to be spattered with curses or swear words. But when he became a Christian, John soon found that there was a change going on inside him. Each time he was about to pepper his conversation with one of his favorite curses, he would suddenly feel uncomfortable, even embarrassed. To his own amazement, he sensed that somehow it was wrong, even though at first he couldn't explain why. Within a very short time his filthy language was a thing of the past. There were other things in his life that God still needed to deal with, but the cursing was gone, and John realized that it was no longer something he wanted to be known for. In fact, what he really wanted was for people to see something of Jesus reflected in his life.
And that is what God wants! He longs for our lives to show the world what he is like. When people look at us they should see something of the character of the marvelous God we serve. One of his most important qualities is holiness. In order for us to reflect his holiness and enter the destiny God has for us, there are patterns of behavior, learned in the world, that need to be changed. But godly character is not a transformation we can bring about ourselves. Paul's letter to the Ephesians makes it clear that we are "in Christ." This is what makes true change possible, from the inside out. We must depend upon the Holy Spirit to both show us what needs to be changed and to show us how. Sometimes the transformation will come easily and naturally, as it did with John's language. Other things may take longer and involve a struggle, even requiring help from others. But God will enable us to change, to walk in freedom, to show what he is like to the world.
Are there areas of your life in which you still struggle to be more like him? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you change and to give you practical steps you can take to see that happen.
Heart and Mind
What does the word holy bring to your mind?
Who would you consider to be "holy" people? Why?
Engaging the Text
Read Ephesians 4:17-32
1. How does the society described by Paul in verses 17-19 compare with the society you see around you today?
2. Paul uses phrases such as "put on" and "put off" (vv. 24-25) to describe how Christians are to live. What does this suggest to you about our part in the process of change?
3. According to verses 25-32, what does Paul say that we must not do, that we must do, and why?
Must Not Do Must Do Reasons
4. In which of these areas do you find change difficult? Why?
5. The reasons that Paul gives for these changes are reasons that affect our relationships. In what ways do they do this?
6. What consequences have you seen in your own life and in the world around you of people disobeying Paul's instruction to "not let the sun go down while you are still angry" (v. 26)?
Read Ephesians 5:1-20
7. The first two verses of chapter 5 summarize what Paul has been saying so far. (Note the "therefore.") What do you think it means to imitate God? How is this possible for us? (See "Transforming the Heart" on page 17.)
8. The world around us affects us, for both good and bad. Paul describes a number of things that should not be found among God's people. Consider your everyday life at home, school, work, and even at church. Where do you come across similar behavior and how does it affect you?
9. What does it mean to be "partners" (v. 7) with those who are doing these things?
10. Paul encourages the Ephesians to be imitators of God (v. 1). How might you imitate God in the situations you are facing, instead of imitating those around you? Try to be specific.
11. Paul describes a strong contrast between what the Ephesians' lives were like before and after coming to know Christ. Your life may be like this, or you may have grown up knowing Christ from childhood, and God has constantly been at work in you. What are the most significant changes he has made in your life?
12. What areas would you still like to grow in?
Setting the Stage
Ephesus is famous in the ancient world for its temple of Diana, where sex with temple prostitutes is part of its worship. Immorality is normal and everywhere.
Paul started the church in Ephesus on his second missionary journey and has spent three years there to see that it is well established.
Transforming the Heart
"'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws'" (Ezekiel 36:24-27).
These people seemed hopeless! Despite God's continual goodness and mercy to them, they consistently sought the favor of idols and lived wretchedly sinful lives. God had called Israel to be a reflection of his character to the nations. He wanted all to come to know him. Thankfully, God did not give up. Here he speaks out his plan to create a new humanity, one which could and would reflect him.
Through Jesus, we are recipients of this great promise. In Jesus, God has given us the ability to walk in friendship with him and live according to his standards. Through the cross, our sins can be cleansed and our idols destroyed. He has put within us a new, responsive heart and enabled us to recognize and obey his voice.
We can enter this new life by first seeking to understand who God is and what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. Next, we have to choose to believe this truth and act on it. By obeying God in every circumstance, we can consistently enjoy his indwelling presence and protection.
Write in your own words what God has provided for you to live a holy life.
Called to Be Accountable
"When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering a male goat without defect" (Leviticus 4:23).
Al didn't really think of it as accountability when Mark invited him to begin meeting together each week. To him it was simply a time to read the Bible together and talk. Mark began telling his young friend about his personal and spiritual struggles, and soon Al was sharing his own. They talked about relationship problems, spiritual questions, their thought life, and how they were using their time. The result of this "accountability" was strong spiritual growth in both.
It is common to think of accountability as something formal and public, a little like it was experienced in Israel's early history. At that time there was no hope of going unnoticed if you were in trouble. Every time you sinned, you had to take an animal up to the temple as an offering to be sacrificed to the Lord. It was a very visible way of being accountable.
Today relationships of accountability more closely resemble what Al and Mark experienced. Mark created the atmosphere of accountability by sharing freely. Because Al could be open about his struggles, it helped both of them keep moving forward spiritually. Every believer can benefit from this kind of relationship of trust. Friends who regularly share their hearts with one another and pray together will find increasing victory in the Lord.
Have you been accountable to anyone for the growth of your spiritual life? If you'd like such a relationship, ask God to lead you to the right person.