Forgiveness is Imitating Christ

“Forgiveness is Imitating Christ” Ephesians 4:25-32   The character of Christ will be revealed in those who have received forgiveness from God. Forgiveness Changes Actions Forgiveness Changes Attitudes   Forgiveness Changes Actions   Ephesians 4:25-28, NKJV 25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. 26 “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil. 28 Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.   The person what has found forgiveness through faith in Christ by God’s grace will live their lives differently. That difference will become more and more evident as the reality of what they have received from God is discovered by growing in their knowledge of God through His Word. The one who is forgiven by God will not change their actions and attitudes in a moment, but over the course of time and long suffering will imitate Christ in a manner that is easily recognizable by others who have received forgiveness of sins. Apostle Paul provides in this portion of his letter to the believers in Ephesus practical, visible ways the forgiven person will change in their behavior. Apostle Paul comes to this portion of the letter which charges the believers to, “Therefore, putting away lying…” having first reminded the believers of how their hearts and minds were once blinded by sin, but now is renewed into a new person “…created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:17-24). The reason to change is based upon what God has done for us through Christ; it is not so a person can have a better life now or live with less pain, stress, conflict, and more comfort. The opposite will take place for God’s people in the eyes of others. Yet, the child of God will   receive strength to endure, hope to encourage, and peace to sustain them through all the trials that will seem to those of the world to flood the lives of those who turn to the Lord in faith. Forgiveness is revealed as those who are forgiven reflect the character of Christ in their daily routines and lifestyles. Paul takes this opportunity to pull from the Scriptures of the Old Testament in order to help the disciples of Christ understand how to put away lying in this new life they have received. Paul first goes back to the inspired writings of Zechariah to reinforce that it is God’s will for people to speak truth and remembering they are all members of the body of Christ belonging to one another.   16 These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbor; Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; 17 Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; And do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,’ Says the Lord”. (Zechariah 8:16-17, NKJV, emphasis added)   Truth is to be spoken to one another; it should be present along with justice and peace in the places of authority. Lies are to be put away because God hates false oaths and evil thoughts towards others in the heart of people. Paul then goes back into the wisdom writing of the Scriptures to help Christ’s disciples to be aware of sin and avoid it at all costs, “4 Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah” (Psalm 4:4 NKJV). The first half of Psalm 4:4 Paul quotes but is inspired to paraphrase the second have with practical steps that explain the second half of Psalm 4:4, “…do not let the sun go down on your wrath…” The idea Paul expresses is to settle all anger issues quickly, but not hastily. David in Psalm 4:4 advises the angry individual to think through and be still before acting rashly to avoid falling into sin. Paul instructs that anger needs to be addressed quickly so the devil does not have a place to work his lies from, and tempt a person to act upon their emotions and hurt rather than seeking God’s direction. Forgiveness received from God that has begun the transformation of a person’s heart by the presence of the Holy Spirit will remember that their own sin against God is no worse than what has been done to them. The tendency of the child of God as they grow in maturity is to be slower to become angry and more gracious towards those who are lost or immature in their walk with the Lord. Lies and anger are expressly mentioned since they are two areas which people get tripped up quickest in their life. God continually inspired His prophets in the Old Testament and writers in the New Testament to address these issues. Proverbs 14:17 says, “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, And a man of wicked intentions is hated” (NKJV). Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (NKJV). Solomon was inspired to write, “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, For anger rests in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9, NKJV). James wrote, “19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20, NKJV). The clearest evidence a person can show to others of the forgiveness they have received is how slow they are to become angry and their self-control over their emotions and reactions. The second visible evidence is speaking the truth to one another, even when it hurts. This ties into anger because truth is what makes people angry when it is difficult to hear or reveals areas of life that need to be changed in us. Lying is a serious thing to God which He literally hates.   16 There are six things the Lord hates,     seven that are detestable to him: 17 haughty eyes,         a lying tongue,         hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,         feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies         and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Proverbs 6:16-19, NKJV, emphasis added)   The hatred of lying is because God is Truth. Lying reflects the sinful nature or the devil rather than the righteous character of God. The truth seems harsh to the ears of people. There seems to be a sense that love is to refrain from telling people what is needed to be heard and telling them what they would like to hear in order to protect their feelings. It is a sign of immaturity in Christ when protecting someone’s feelings is of greater importance than helping them to address things that need to be changed in their life to be more Christ-like. Lying is also detrimental to the whole body of Christ. Paul gives the incentive for speaking the truth to one another as, “we are members of one another.” When lies are told to one another as believers it is the same as lying to self and to Christ. Lies are never once and done. One lie always, without fail, leads to another lie then more lies being told to an ever growing circle of people which only increases the damage of the original lie. When one lie begins to unravel more lies are told, anger develops over being caught in a lie, and foolish actions are taken in order to prevent people from discovering the truth. The one who has been forgiven by God neither needs to be deceitful about things or afraid that others will find out they are in need of grace and help or become angry whenever the day or week has not turned out to be what we expected it would be like. The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in God’s people causes their anger to be slower to develop, and their feelings, words, and actions are submitted to the authority of Scripture before being carried out when anger does flare up. Anger is not sinful; it is what we do in response to anger that brings about sin when anger is present. What was done before Christ, which reflected the character of sinful mankind, must be exchanged for actions that reflect the character of God from who forgiveness and new life has been received. Paul uses the example of someone who steals things from others to support themselves to instead work with their hands to provide for others. It is no longer what you can receive or have in life which makes one fill fulfilled, but what can be given to others in their time of need that brings satisfaction and joy. After all, Jesus said it was more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Forgiveness received from God is revealed through actions in those who were once known to do the opposite thing in the past. The one who is forgiven through grace by faith is transformed on the inside immediately because of their new standing before God the Father as being justified. This takes time to be seen in how actions once done and positions once held that were once in line with sinful mankind are now coming into alignment with God’s established order and eternal truth. What was common for a person to do in their sinful nature now becomes foreign to their character and despised in their hearts. The Bible provides us with many practical examples of how to give a testimony to the world of the new life that Christ has given through the forgiveness of sins. Apostle Paul here in this portion of his letter to the Ephesians explains how those who are in Christ can imitate Him in order to open the door to tell others of the forgiveness they have received by God’s grace through faith in Christ. If people do not recognize a change between what the child of God used to do and what they do now, they will certainly see it in the transformation of their new attitude toward people, work, and material things. Forgiveness Changes Attitudes   Ephesians 4:29-32, NKJV 29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.   Attitude in its basic understanding is a person’s outlook on life. Attitude is how people, places, work, and circumstances are viewed which affects how the person will respond to each of these things. Each person has a measure of good and bad attitudes towards different things in their lives. Sometimes they can be quite drastic depending on a history of interacting with certain people or difficulties experienced in certain places or performing certain activities. Paul is addressing how the attitude of God’s people should be different than the attitudes of those who have not received forgiveness of their sins. Paul begins with “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth…” Words are neutral; it is the meaning people assign to a word that makes it affect either negative or positive when it is heard. There is not a list of offensive words from which must be refrained from being said that Paul is referencing here. The Greek word translated corrupt here is “sapros” meaning worthless: either literally or morally; bad, corrupt. Everything that a child of God speaks must be for the good of those who are hearing it, including the person who is saying. A person’s attitude is most recognizable by their how they talk and the vocabulary they choose to use. Grace must be imparted to others by the attitude of God’s people in every word that comes out of their mouth. This can be quite challenging because there are so many things that negatively affect peoples’ attitudes. Things as simple as the weather, temperature, and time of day often make a person who generally has a “good” attitude to be coarse and negative about everything around them. God is revealing to us through Apostle Paul that no matter what is being verbally spoken, even if no one else is around to hear it by a person’s own ears, those being spoken to and anyone who indirectly hears what is said should receive grace. Correction and rebuke can be said in a way that “imparts grace to the hearers” if said out of an attitude of the heart that has received grace from God. Jesus spoke of this when addressing the misconception of the religious leaders about what defiles a person.   17 Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. 20 These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matthew 15:17-20, NKJV)   It is possible to suffer from hardships, experience great sorrow in the soul, and cry out in pain without having a corrupt word proceed out of the mouth. Job is a perfect example of this. In all that Job said, God proclaimed that Job had spoken rightly about Him, “7 And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has” (Job 42:7, NKJV). David expressed great words of anguish as well which are an encouragement and comfort today in the psalms,   1 How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? 2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2, NKJV)   These words are a blessing because David’s focus on the Lord and trust in God always brought him back to the hope he had in God.   5 But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. 6 I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:5-6, NKJV)   Apostle Paul continues on with, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…” The Greek word translated grieve is “lupeö” meaning to distress, to be sad, cause grief, grieve, be in heaviness, sorrow, be sorry. It is possible for God’s people to cause the Lord to be saddened. God’s grace toward mankind is all the more great when time is taken to consider how often throughout Scripture that God was grieved over the behavior of mankind and the attitude of His people. It began with the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) and later brought about the great flood destroying all life upon the land except for Noah and his family (Genesis 6:5-8). Humanity has broken God’s heart and caused Him to grieve. Paul is urging all who have received forgiveness of sin and have new life by God’s grace through faith to do everything possible to be obedient to God’s Spirit living in them. The way people grieve the Spirit most of the time is simply to be resistant to His leading, refusing to trust in His power to do the impossible in spite of great challenges and obstacles, and to insist on living by sight rather than faith (2 Corinthians 5:6-7). The people of God grieve the Spirit of God each time they choose to trust their own wisdom and knowledge over the leading of the all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-present God; this causes the Lord sorrow. There is no reason to doubt that God can bring something beneficial to His people and for others through every situation that can be encountered during life in their world. There is no reason to believe that God would not bring His people safely home into His presence even though this world threatens to undo and destroy all who worship and obey Almighty God. If the promises of God are held in the minds of God’s people and acted out through the passion to please God, the boldness of God’s people would be as a light from the lighthouse upon the shore to sailors on a stormy sea proclaiming hope and offering shelter. Apostle Paul goes on to list many things that are expressed through the attitudes of people: “…all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31, NKJV). Each of these things that are to be put away from us all have their beginnings in internal attitudes which are visibly and verbally expressed outwardly. These things demonstrate the character of sinful mankind rather than the righteousness and holiness of Almighty God. What is common among people must uncommon and unbecoming of the one who has been forgiven in Christ. This list of things Paul was inspired to write and encourage disciples of Christ to put away from their lives are spiritual cancers aggressively attacking healthy cells of the body. Bitterness is that nagging dissatisfaction that continually eats away at the joy of the Lord in a person. Wrath and anger of people is nothing more than an attempt to lash out to handle matters in their strength to achieve the results they believe is best instead of allowing God to work in His time and His way. Clamor is to cry out and refuse to be comforted by God or anyone else, but simply choosing to remain in the sorrowful place a person has chosen for themselves. Evil speaking is simply to be negative about everything and everyone in removing any kind of hope and peace in the lives of others purposefully or unintentionally. Malice is the act of tearing others down and destroying the reputation of others for selfish purposes or out of jealousy or fear. These things were among the early disciples of Christ or God would have never had to address the issue through the apostle. The reason for the presence of these things is in part because people have a difficult time accepting the miraculous changes forgiveness of sins by the grace of God through faith in Christ has brought about in their life. It is possible to, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” each day when a person realizes what they have received in Christ when they have been forgiven of their sins. Forgiveness is imitating Christ because His Spirit lives within them, transforming them into His image which was unimaginable before receiving salvation from the wrath of God the Father. This is expressed in something Apostle Paul said earlier in this letter to the Ephesians, “20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21, NKJV). The way God can change people miraculously is for those who call upon His name for salvation to entrust everything about their lives into His control. When this is done, Christ becomes the adored and admired person and being like Him is what brings true satisfaction. Material things are no longer the treasured possessions they once were, but mere tools to magnify and lift the true treasure who is Christ. The meaning of life goes beyond what is seen and understood in this world, but is transcended into an eternal frame of mind that focuses more on living than achieving and acquiring things in this physical life. God has the power to change the things a person believes are unchangeable. The idea that a person cannot change because they have always been “that way” is a lie. God can do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” which includes changing the hearts of people who seem immovable. No one can change themselves beyond a temporary adjustment. The person who accepts they are a new creation in Christ through the forgiveness of sins cannot remain unchanged, but must and will imitate Christ in their life with each passing day.

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