Text: Ephesians 5:15-21
In Friday’s Garfield comic strip, Jon asked his cat if he had decided on his New Year’s resolutions yet. Garfield’s response was, “Yes, same as last year. Not to mess with perfection.” Well, unlike Garfield, I have not yet arrived at perfection. Therefore, the new year continues to be a good time to reflect, rewind, and reconsider where I’ve been and where I’m going. That’s what resolutions are all about: improving the path we’re traveling so that we wind up further along toward the goal we are striving for at the end of this year than we find ourselves at its beginnings.
But resolutions are also demanding. Resolutions first demand that you know who you want to be. This is the primary reason why so many new year’s resolutions are abandoned by the fifth day of the year. Too many people define who they think they want to be as the idea they have of someone else. The photoshopped image from a magazine defines the body they want. The idyllic picture from a postcard defines where they want to live. We allow our definition of who we want to be to be shaped by the things we see in others around us, even if they are only imagined.
This reveals the second demand of resolutions. Not only do you have to know who you want to be, but to know who you want to be, you have to know who you are now. This is a point of confusion for many people. Am I a husband and father or wife and mother? Am I my paycheck or my job title? Am I my hobby or my favorite team? Until you know what defines who you are, you cannot know who you are. And until you know who you are, you really can’t decide what you want to be. And until you decide what you want to be, you can’t really set up resolutions that will move you on toward that goal.
As believers, figuring out who we are is not nearly as difficult as it sounds like it might be. Really, it’s just a matter of remembering some key truths. First, consider 2 Corinthians 5:17, where it says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” There you have it. We who are believers and therefore in Christ, we are new creations, although that truth remains a little cryptic.
Paul adds dimension to our status as new creations right here in Ephesians, just a few verses before where we are today. In chapter 4 verse 24 Paul says, “Put off the old self and put on the new, in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” The new creation that we are is a new self that is made in the likeness of Christ. But the image of being in the likeness of Christ is still a little removed from our daily lives. Just what does that mean?
For that, we need to turn back to Jesus’ words in John 4:24. There, in the context of talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” So this is who we are. We are new creatures who have been made in the likeness of God, who is spirit. Therefore, if we are made in his likeness, then we are also spirit in nature. And not just spirit, but spirit of the kind that resembles God. And what is God like? Remember what we just read from Ephesians chapter 4, where Paul said that we are to “Put off the old self and put on the new, in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Who are we? We are spirits whose goal is to be righteous and holy in the same way that God, in whose image and likeness we are made, is both righteous and holy. Garfield may believe that he has already achieved the epitome of perfection, but what of you? Do you think you have achieved a mirror-like replica of God’s righteousness and holiness? No? Ah! Then we have also figured out what it is that we are to be. Who are we? We are new creatures, spirits recreated in new selves in the likeness of God. What is the goal for who we want to become? Our goal is to be like God, who is righteous and holy. In the mystery of the already/not yet wonder of salvation, we have been declared to be made new in God’s likeness, yet we find ourselves to have not yet completely put off the old and put on the new, in obedience of Paul’s command.
What then, on this New Year’s Day, looking out on all of the challenges and promises that 2012 will bring to us, what should our resolutions be so that at the end of this year, we can look back and say we have achieved our goal of becoming more of who we want to be – like God in His holiness and righteousness – than we find ourselves to be right now?
In the middle of chapter 5 of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul offers his suggestions for what our resolutions should be. We can resolve this year to strive to become better Christ followers. We can resolve to take off more of the old and put on more of the new. So that when 2012 makes its exit, via a calendar change or the sound of a trumpet’s call, we look less like our old, fallen, sinful selves, and more like our new, holy, righteous, white-robed selves we have been declared to be.
What does Paul say in chapter 5? He says, watch how you walk. He goes on to describe two ways in which we can walk. We can walk in the flesh, or we can walk in the spirit. Now, who are we? We a new creatures, made in the likeness of God who is spirit. We are spirit if we are saved. So we should aim to walk that way. But we still have a choice.
Don’t be those who walk in the flesh, Paul says. He gives their description. They are those who lack wisdom. Wisdom is personified in the Old Testament, particularly in Proverbs. Solomon, who was granted great wisdom by God so that he could rule Israel well, pondered all varieties of fleshly endeavors in Ecclesiastes. At the end of his musings, the Preacher declared, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” This is wisdom: to fear God and keep His commands. But those in the flesh lack such wisdom. They neither fear God nor keep his commands.
Lacking wisdom, those who walk in the flesh are foolish. And the foolish demonstrate their foolishness by ignoring the will of the Lord. They do not seek to know it. But even when God’s will is made manifest to them, they live apart from it to their own ends and their eventual destruction. This is the life of the fool who lives in the flesh and the flesh only. These are those of whom God says through Paul to the Romans that “He gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”
Those who pursue the flesh seek their fullness in the things of the flesh. Paul describes it as being drunk with wine. Those who are drunk with wine have filled themselves up with it, seeking to satiate their desires through what the world can provide. Of course, alcohol is just one means of doing this. Ecclesiastes lists many more: pleasures of the flesh, philanthropy, workaholism, beauty, and wealth, among others. Any source besides God that we use to try to fill the emptiness we find within is our own wine that we seek to be made drunk by. Paul calls it debauchery, a wastefulness of what God has made that should be good. The medium of it – whether alcohol or work or wealth or whatever – is not nearly as important as our pursuit of satisfaction through anything other than God.
These are those who have chosen to walk by way of the flesh. They will never be satisfied. They will find no goal that satiates their desires. Their resolutions will always fail as they move on to the next thing to strive after. As the Preacher of Ecclesiastes says, it is all a “vanity of vanities and a striving after the wind.” It is futile. Especially for we who are made spirit in our recreation and salvation.
Paul offers the alternative: be filled with the Spirit. Let this be your resolution. Those who are filled with the Spirit walk in wisdom. The Spirit is truth, and those who walk in the Spirit walk in that truth. They will possess the same wisdom that Solomon was given, because the same Truth is behind it. Those who are filled with the Spirit do not waste their days in drunken stupors over anything this world might offer. No chasing beauty or immortality or wealth or fame, all of which will quickly fade away. These do not last are not worthy of our strivings. They are debauchery, as being filled with wine is debauchery.
Being filled with the Spirit means that we make the most of the time we are given. All we have is this moment. This is it. What are we going to do with it? Make the most of it! How do we make the most of it? We listen to, understand, and obey the will the God. Those who are filled with the Spirit know God intimately and can fully understand what He wants. Like any lover, when we are filled to the brim with our God and creator, we will aim in every moment to please and honor Him. So be filled with the Spirit and make the most of your time, however much you are given.
Being filled with the Spirit colors the way we talk and express ourselves. Paul encourages the Ephesians to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs or odes. Let what comes out of our mouths to each other and to God be pleasing to Him and a constant striving to be like Him. In Matthew 12:34, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees and says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” When we are filled with the Spirit, our heart should be full of the pleasure of God, and it is that which should fill our mouths. The way we talk will be different as a result. It will be noticeably different. People will comment about it. How is your talk?
Those who are filled with the Spirit are able to give thanks to God always, in every circumstance, knowing that this world is not our home, we are just a passing through. Our hope and our promise is greater yet. So we find in all things a way to give thanks. Again, we are filled with the Spirit who speaks through us. We talk in His wisdom, not our own. We make melody in the beauty of His utterances, not in the vulgarity of our own.
And those who are filled with the Spirit constantly submit themselves to each other because we all revere Christ. Submission is a form of imitation, as Christ submitted, so do we. This last verse of this passage sets up the discussion of wives and husbands and Christ and the church that we talked about a few weeks ago. Our acts of submission are acts of worship and reverence. In this verse, reverence is the Greek word phobos, from which we get all of our phobias. Phobos is simply fear. We submit to one another because we fear Christ. Not in a terrified way, but a respectful way. We respect Christ, and so we allow the opinions, needs, and desires of others to outweigh our own, submitting to them, finding that they are also submitting to us out of the same fear of Christ.
On this first day of 2012, I suggest that you really only have two options for your resolution. Are you going to resolve to walk in the flesh, or to be filled with the Spirit? Your 2012 will be shaped by the resolution you make here and now. Put off the old; put on the new. Be filled with the Spirit and seek to honor Christ in all that you do this year, and so make the most of the time that you have.
As we examine ourselves now in preparation for the taking of the Lord’s Supper, the body and blood of Christ, let’s consider what 2012 will hold and bring. Let’s pray for our walk, as individuals and as a fellowship community, that God would be in our midst. That He would guard and guide. That we would be found not be people of the flesh, but people of the Spirit. Let’s be resolved.