We’re beginning today a 5-week sermon series entitled Upstream: Counter Cultural Discipleship. The idea is that sometimes as Christians—and as the church—we may find ourselves going with the flow of culture rather than the more challenging path of Christian discipleship.
We’re going to begin the series in Ephesians 4, thinking about identity. Who am I? What defines me? I’ve always thought that was kind of a weird thing to do—the concept of “finding oneself” or (more common today) to “self-identify.” There is a lot of confusion in our surrounding culture about identity: sexuality, gender, race. “You can identify as whatever you want.”
There is a strong current in contemporary culture to make a person’s identity their own creation, rather than acknowledging the Creator as the one who bestows identity, who fashioned each of us fearfully and wonderfully, in God’s own image, male and female, “red and yellow, black and white… precious in his sight”.
More broadly, we may find our identity in what we have (possessions) or what we do (accomplishments) or what people say about us (approval). In effect, we are trying to create a version of our self that fits the mold of the world—that meets the expectations of creatures rather than the Creator.
I want to encourage you today to be more concerned with God’s version of you.
Grow Up Into Christ
Grow Up Into Christ
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
God’s version of you and me is the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (vs. 13). God’s purpose: that we would be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29).
We are to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (vs. 15). Christian life is growth-in-progress. It is thoroughly transformative.
There is a unique God-given function given to all the parts of the body, so that growth happens as “each part is working properly” (vs. 16). Hence, our theme for the year: Engage.
Along with this, Paul gives a contrasting image:
so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
In other words, beware of the drift (carried by the shifting winds of whatever people are approving of and the powerful waves and subtle currents of Satan’s schemes.)
peer pressure, personal desire, cultural influence (‘keeping up’ is really ‘falling behind’)
Going with the flow results in a immature version of you.
But God calls us “upstream.” (discipleship)
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Those verses conclude a thought that begins in 4:1. It is a hinge-point in the letter. The first three chapters are all about what is true of us in Christ. Here, Paul begins to show us what it looks like in life. (upstream discipleship)
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Paul knew who he was: “I… a prisoner for the Lord” (statement of identity).
Living “for the Lord” was the defining mark of his life. All else could be stripped from him, but not that.
He urges Christians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” - Let God’s call define your life. This isn’t so much to live in a way deserving of what he has done for you, but rather live out what he calls you to.
You’ve got to know who you are (otherwise you’ll drift)
student for the Lord, mom/dad for the Lord, employee for the Lord, retired for the Lord (I am first and foremost a follower of Jesus)
What kind of person is the Lord calling me to be this week?
Notice that you can’t live for the Lord without living for the church—relating to one another in ways that are counter culture.
humility and gentleness (Christlike, but not culturally esteemed)
patience (long fuse) and bearing w/one another in love (“tolerate each other’s foibles and peccadilloes”
Identity: I am for Christ and for the church family—even when it is costly, even if no one else is, even if my appearance takes a hit.
Marek Bush -In January of this year, HS Sophomore state champion wrestler in a wrestling match with a rival. Found himself outmatched until his opponent was severely injured. When the injured opponent decided to return and finish the match, Marek told his his coach “I got this.” It would have been an easy win, at that point. Instead, he laid down and forfeited a match that was his to win. He thought it made him look like a “weakling,” but he did it anyway because “winning isn’t everything.” The ref said: “State championships come and go, but that--you can’t take that away from a kid.”
Being a Christian is about being God’s person at the deepest level of yourself—in such a way that it defines in every situation and cannot be taken away from you. Let God’s call define your life.
One more thing that is important to note: Paul’s appeal in these verses follows three chapters of telling what Christ has done for us. It is not our worthy-walking that makes us right with God; it is the grace of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus that makes worthy-walking possible. So, if you are not a Christian, it starts with being baptized into Christ, being born again, becoming a new creation.