Reasons Why Paul is Against Sin
March 11th sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
In helping believers to live in their new identity in Christ (Eph. 4:23), Paul confronts sin head-on in Ephesians 5 by detailing specifically six sins we should not do, what we should do instead, and explains why (described in 2 previous sermons):
- Don’t speak falsehood — Do speak truth — Because we are all members of the same body.
- Don’t be angry — Do resolve your anger — Because unresolved anger gives the Devil a place to work.
- Don’t steal — Do work hard — Because it will enable you to share with those in need.
- Don’t speak words that harm — Do speak words that encourage — Because speaking harmful words grieves the Holy Spirit, and causes him to be silent in our gatherings.
- Don’t take revenge — Do forgive — Because we are most like God when we forgive.
- Don’t abuse the gift of sex — Do give thanks for it — Because sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed within the bonds of marriage.
In Eph. 5:5-14, Paul explains that he (and God) is against immorality and the other sins he has forbidden in this chapter. Three reasons we should not sin:
1. Because a lifestyle of sin is contrary to our destiny. (Ephesians 5:5)
A lifestyle of unrepentant sin is recognized and further warned against in Galatians 5:19-21 and I Cor. 6:9-11. Paul reminds the Church at the same time that they are different; a sinful way of living is NOT their new identity (Eph. 5:7, I Cor. 6:11) and not where they are headed. The destiny for believers in Christ is the Kingdom of God both here on earth and later the glory of heaven.
In contrast, those who live a sinful lifestyle face the possibility of not inheriting God’s Kingdom. Salvation is certainly not based on behavior, but on the gift of faith (Eph. 2:9). However, your works and the life you lead, ultimately do expose your faith and the condition of your heart. Behavior always betrays belief. Are we leaning to beliefs of darkness or to God’s light?
2. Sin brings God’s wrath (Ephesians 5:6)
God hates sin! (Gen. 19, Rev. 6) Sin harms what God loves and causes all suffering. Sin is contrary to all that God is. In fact, to destroy our sin, God poured out His full wrath on His Son Jesus (John 19 and Isaiah 53:5,10). Instead of God’s final wrath, believers now can obtain salvation through Christ (I Thes. 5:9) — although for our growth, we might also experience His discipline for specific sins.
3. Because we are the light. (Ephesians 5:8)
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light”. (Eph.5:8). This is our destiny — we are the light! It’s not about what we do, but about who we are. In our new identity as children of light: we will know what’s right and do it (Eph.5:10); we will expose darkness for what it is with our godly lives of goodness, righteous, and truth (Eph.5:11-13); and we will see some people actually become light as they receive Christ and “rise from the dead” (Eph.5:14).
Christians certainly do struggle with sin (Romans 7), but with the Spirit’s help we can surrender and expose that sin to God, and He will exchange it for His love, truth, and hope — transforming us daily into the true identity and destiny that Jesus Christ died for all of us to have. May His light shine through us to our families, our friends, and the whole world!
- What sins are we warned against in Gal.5:19-21 and I Cor. 6:9-11? Do your recognize any of them (or the six in Eph. 5) in your own life? What exactly do we do with our sins??
- What is the difference between struggling with and ignoring/denying sin?
- Ever worry about being saved? Check out Rom.8:28-39,John 10:27-29,John 5:24).
- What might God’s discipline look like for our sinning?
- How can we be the light of God in this world if we are still imperfect sinners?
Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the US, was a man of few words. They called him “Silent Cal,” because although he could give a good speech when the occasion called for it, most of the time he just didn’t talk. Someone once asked him why he was so quiet, and Coolidge said “If you don’t say anything, you won’t be asked to repeat it.” He was once at a dinner party, and the lady seated next to him said “You know, I made a bet today that I could get you to say more than two words.” Coolidge’s response was simple: “You lose.”
One of Calvin Coolidge’s most famous quotes related to church. One day Coolidge came home from church, and his wife said “How was church?” In typical Coolidge style, he said “fine.” She tried again. “What did the preacher preach about?” He said “Sin.” Finally, she said “Well, what did he say about it?” “He was against it.”
Now that may seem extreme. This week as I worked on this sermon, I realized something. Sometimes it’s just that simple. As I studied our passage for today, I thought about putting more nuances into the sermon. I thought about focusing on different details, but in the end today’s sermon really is that simple. Paul is against sin (because God is against sin). Today, he’s going to tell us why!
So men if you’re like Calvin Coolidge, this is your week! You are going to have an awesome small group experience. The conversation will basically be: “Sin is stupid. Let’s talk about the NCAA Tournament!” Actually, I don’t know whether it will be that simple, but Paul really is against sin.
We are continuing today in our study of Ephesians 4-5 called “Walk this Way.” Over the last couple of weeks Paul, Jesus’ authorized Apostle – the guy who wrote Ephesians, has been telling us six ways to live out, six ways to walk in our new identity in Christ. If you are in Christ, you have a completely new identity. Paul has talked about six areas where God wants us to be changed by that new identity. As he has talked about each of these areas, Paul has given us three things:
- A Don’t – something that we should not do. In other words, a sin.
- A Do – something we should do. Something we should put on as an expression of that new identity.
- With each one, Paul has given us a reason why we should do that.
In week one, Paul said “Don’t speak falsehood rather. Do speak truth, because we are all members of the same body. Don’t be sinfully angry. Do resolve your anger, because unresolved anger gives the Devil a place to work. Don’t steal. Do work hard, because it will enable you to share with those in need.” Then last week, Paul said: “Don’t speak words that harm. Rather, do speak words that encourage, because speaking harmful words grieves the Holy Spirit, and causes him to be silent in our gatherings. Don’t take revenge, but Do forgive, because we are most like God when we forgive.” Then lastly, Paul began to discuss the area of sexual immorality. He said “Don’t abuse the gift of sex.” That was the Don’t the sin. Then he said: “Do give thanks for it. Sex is a gift from God. It’s not dirty it’s not un-Christian it’s not forbidden. Sex is a gift. Within the bounds of marriage, we are to participate in it and enjoy it and give God thanks for it.” That’s where we stopped.
Now what Paul is going to do today is give us the reason. He’s going to give us the reason why he (and why God ) is against sexual immorality. Actually, he’s going to give us three reasons. As we look closely at these reasons, we’re going to see that they don’t just relate to sexual immorality. Ultimately, they relate to all the things Paul has forbidden in this section – from retaliation, to anger, to stealing. In fact, we will see these reasons relate to many other sins. Today Paul is going to talk about sin. He’s going to give us three reasons that, as Coolidge said, “He’s against it.”
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 5. Today we are going to look at verses 5-14 where Paul gives the reasons why he’s against immorality. As we read, let’s back up to verse 3 to get some context.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
– Ephesians 5:3-14
This passage is going to give us three reasons that we shouldn’t sin. The first one is this:
Because Sin Is Contrary to Our Destiny
If you are a Christian, a lifestyle of sin doesn’t make any sense based on where you are headed. Let me show you what I mean. Look at verse 5. Paul makes a sobering statement. Paul has just told his readers that, as Christians, they should not participate in immorality, in impurity, or in sexual greed. They shouldn’t engage in it. They shouldn’t joke about it. Now look at what he says:
For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
– Ephesians 5:5
Paul says people who live a lifestyle of immorality, impurity, or sexual greed have no part in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Scholars say Paul normally called it God’s Kingdom when he was referring to the future and Christ’s kingdom when he was referring to the present. But it’s the same Kingdom, and Paul’s message is clear: No one who lives that kind of lifestyle has any part of any phase of God’s Kingdom. To put it in shorthand: they are not going to heaven.
Now, that’s a pretty sobering statement, isn’t it? But it gets even more sobering. I said in the introduction that this passage relates to more than just immorality and let me tell you why I said that. I say that because this passage isn’t just an isolated instance. There are actually three of these passages in the New Testament. They are called “the warning passages.” There’s one in 1 Corinthians 6. There’s one in Galatians 5. Then there’s this one in Ephesians. They all follow the same pattern. They have three parts:
- They always say something like “this you know ” or “I’ve already told you this.” Here it says “Of this you can be sure.” Like this should be clear to you
- These passages always give a list of sins and say “People who live like this will have no inheritance in God’s Kingdom.” That’s why I say this is broader than just immorality. Because if you look at the other two passages, they each have a much longer list of sins and the items listed don’t all relate to sexual immorality. There’s actually 25 items listed in the three passages. They range from seven kinds of immorality to drunkards to thieves to swindlers to idolatry to witchcraft. But then there’s also nine words that relate to relational strife: hatred, jealousy, selfish ambition, envy – all those things are listed. It’s a wide range of sins. Paul always draws the same conclusion: People who live this way have no inheritance in God’s Kingdom. It’s pretty sobering, really, because most of us have struggled with some of these things. But there’s one more part to each list, and this is very important :
- Paul always gives some indication that his readers don’t, or certainly most of them don’t fit, that list. In 1 Corinthians 6, and listen Corinth was a church that had a lot of sin problems, Paul gives the list of sins and then says “Such were some of you, but you are now washed you are sanctified.” Here in Ephesians Paul says in verse 7 “Don’t you become partners, or partakers with them.” In other words, “Church, you’re different. That’s not who you are!”
The message is simple: People who live like this are not going to heaven. That’s not you. Maybe that’s who you used to be and I know you struggle with sin. All Christians do but that’s not who you are and that’s not where you are headed. So why on earth would you want to live like that? His basic point is that this is contrary to your destiny, if you belong to Christ. It’s a path that you are ultimately not going to follow, so why would you even start walking down that path? It doesn’t make any sense. That’s Paul’s point: Sin is contrary to your destiny.
It reminds me of an experience that Kelley and I had last Saturday. We were headed to Greensboro to see some friends. We were about 15 minutes late, which was a big deal because it was a sort of surprise party. So we’re driving as fast as we can, and we are using the GPS to navigate. Now, I’ve told you before that Kelley, who has a pretty good sense of direction, hates the GPS. Whereas I, who have zero sense of direction, have to depend on it. It’s my only hope. We’re late. We’re driving rapidly down I-40 W which goes straight to Greensboro. When in the middle of nowhere the GPS suddenly tells us to exit and take some little side highway. Kelley says “I don’t think that’s right, but maybe it’s a shortcut, so let’s go.” The GPS led us on a merry chase. We went on highways and side streets. The whole time Kelley kept going “I don’t think we’re any closer.” Finally, it’s been 20 minutes. We’re now basically late when I hear two things. I hear the GPS say something, and I hear Kelley say “Oh no, you did not!” I said “What did it say?” She said “It said go four miles down this road, then take the exit onto I-40 W. Back where we started!” At that point, I told Kelley: “I know I’m your Pastor, but I will give you 30 seconds to say anything to that GPS that you need to say. I will pretend that I didn’t hear it!” I gotta say she held her tongue! I expected some unwholesome speech to come out of her mouth, but she restrained herself!
Now here’s the thing: That was a very frustrating experience! Why? Because that GPS took us down a path that wasted our time and energy and made us late. That divergent path didn’t do anybody any good! That’s what Paul is saying! We all struggle with sin, but a lifestyle of sin is contrary to your destiny. We’re headed for glory. We’re headed for an eternity, where God is going to be the center of all things and where we live according to the truth, in harmony with one another, being faithful, and loving, and kind with true eternal treasure at our disposal. That’s where we’re headed. That’s what your new identity is all about.
So why would we ever engage in idolatry? Why would we engage in hatred or jealousy or selfish ambition? Why would we engage in stealing? In sexual unfaithfulness? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s a useless deviation from what God made us to be. It doesn’t do anyone any good. Paul’s overall message in verse 5 is: “Don’t sin, because it’s contrary to your destiny.”
But there’s another side to this verse, and it’s a very serious side. Paul says here “No immoral, impure, or greedy person has any inheritance in the kingdom of God.” In the other passages, he lists 22 more sins. Some who name the name of Christ, maybe some who are here today if they were being completely honest, might say “Wait a minute. I kind of live like that or someone I know is living like that. They would call themselves a Christian,. but they are doing the some of the things you listed. Does that mean they are not going to heaven?”
Maybe it’s a possibility that they are not going to heaven. I don’t say that because your salvation is based on your behavior, your lifestyle or your works. The New Testament says over 150 times that your salvation is based on faith. Paul says that several times. He said it three chapters ago in Ephesians 2:9. “Salvation is a gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.” So I don’t say that because our salvation is based on our behavior.
In saying that, I’m not saying you can lose your salvation because of your behavior. In Romans, Paul says about believers that nothing can separate them from the love of God. That includes your deeds! In John’s gospel, Jesus says “He won’t lose any that the Father has given him.” If you didn’t get your salvation by not sinning, why would you lose it from sinning? If you can’t behave your way into this, you can’t behave your way out of it.
I don’t say you might not be going to heaven, because you are saved by works. I don’t say it because you lose your salvation by works. Your salvation is based on faith. So why do I say that? I say that because your works ultimately show your faith. The life you lead says something about the true condition of your heart. Behavior ultimately betrays belief. If I say I believe that chair can hold me up, but I constantly refuse to sit on it, I’ve shown something about what I really believe. Paul is saying you can say that you believe Jesus has made you new all you want, but if you never change your behavior I’m not sure you’ve really done it. Behavior betrays belief.
Now I want to be very clear, here because I know that this is going to worry the daylights out of some of you. Some of you are struggling against the very things that Paul mentions here or in Galatians 5 or in 1 Corinthians 6. You’re going to worry that you are not part of God’s Kingdom.
I ran into someone last week, who is struggling mightily and said “Man! I’m under a lot of pressure and, sometimes, the way I lose my temper and the things that come out of my mouth I wonder what’s going on spiritually.” But here’s the thing: I’ve seen Jesus do great works in that person’s life. He’s troubled by his sin. He’s struggling.
Can I just tell you: That’s not what Paul is talking about. This passage was not meant to fill struggling Christians with fear or to make you feel like an orphan. Some of you, Jesus has recently come into your life. He’s moving into one area at a time. Just let that continue. Don’t be fearful!
This is not about strugglers. In Romans 7, Paul talks about how he struggled mightily with sin. I struggle with sin. Our lead team members struggle with sin. This isn’t about struggling!
And it’s not about isolated incidents. Paul doesn’t say “Everyone who’s ever stolen any little thing.” He says “thieves.” It’s not someone who has had too much to drink once. It’s drunkards. It’s not about someone who slipped up and was unfaithful. This is about what Paul calls “immoral people.” Paul is not talking about people who are struggling against something. He’s talking about people who lean into it. This is about people who participate in what God has forbidden with no remorse.
If that’s you, if you’re living life your own way, if you’re happy in your sin, if it’s a way of life, Paul has a very serious word for you today: That unrepentant sin could be a symptom of a very serious problem in your heart. You might not be spiritually alive, and you might not be going where you think you are going.
Jesus said there would be people who named the name of Christ, but didn’t truly belong to him. Paul is saying “Don’t fall into that trap.” If you are engaging in unrepentant sin, if it’s a lifestyle, see to your soul and ask yourself if you are spiritually alive. No one else can do that for you. I don’t say that to frighten you or make you live in fear. I say that because I care about you. I care enough to say the hard things when we need to.
So see to it. If you were going along one day and suddenly you had pain in your chest and shortness of breath and pain down your arm, what would you do? Would you ignore it? No, you would see to it, right? Why? Because that could be a symptom of a big problem in your heart. Well, one of the things Paul is implying is that a lifestyle of unrepentant sin is a symptom that there’s something wrong spiritually. He’s saying see to it. For all of us, Paul is saying “Sin is not the lifestyle that God has for his people, because it’s contrary to our destiny.” So the first reason we shouldn’t sin is that it’s contrary to our destiny. The second reason is this:
Because Sin brings God’s Wrath
Oh good! This will be a much happier point, right? By the way if you’re a guest today, we don’t always talk about God’s judgment. But it is in Scripture. So when we come to it in Scripture, we don’t delight in it, but we also don’t apologize for it. We have to talk about it. Sin Brings God’s wrath:
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things (In other words, because of immorality, impurity, greed, and the other sins we’ve been talking about) God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them
– Ephesians 5:6-7
Paul’s message is simple: We shouldn’t sin, because sin brings God’s wrath. The three things Paul mentions here (immorality, impurity, and greed). The other five things he’s mentioned in this larger passage (dishonesty, sinful anger, stealing, harmful words, retaliation). The rest of the 25 things Paul mentions in these warning passages (hatred jealousy swindling witchcraft). These things make God angry, not because he’s a mean God but because sin harms what God loves! It harms God’s creation. It harms people that are made in God’s image. It destroys marriages and families.
Do you have any idea how much suffering is a result of sin? All of it! People are hurt through lies and harmful words. How many times have I counseled people that lived lives of devastation because of harmful words, spoken by a toxic parent or spouse? Families are destroyed through infidelity and selfishness. Have you ever walked with a family through the aftermath of an extramarital affair? It’s devastating! Entire nations of people are crushed and abused and exiled to keep dictators in power. All because of selfish ambition. Have you seen the footage of Syria? Have you seen the orphans? Have you seen the refugees? Millions of people die because of immorality. 37 million people have died because of HIV. When we were in Zimbabwe, there was about a 40% infection rate. 40%! Imagine losing four out of every ten people you see. We’ve lost students. We’ve lost friends, because of immorality.
Listen God HATES sin. He hates it so much. It’s not cute. It’s not a joke. It’s not a whimsical journey of self discovery. It’s harmful! It’s contrary to everything that God is. He hates it. If you want to see a tiny piece of how much God hates sin, go to Genesis 19. Look at the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, where God rained down fire and brimstone in his wrath for sin. God hates sin. If you want to see a bigger piece of how much God hates sin, go to Revelations 6. Look at the prophecy of God’s judgment on the kings of the earth. After he has given them every chance to repent and they refuse, He pours out his wrath. He executes a judgment that is so severe that they hide in caves and beg the rocks and the mountains to fall on them not just to kill them, but to hide them from the face of God, and the wrath of the Lamb. God hates sin. But if you really want to see how much God hates sin, your sin, if you really want to see the lengths that he will go to to destroy sin, go to John 19. Look at the cross where God poured out his full wrath for your sin and my sin on his one and only Son. Isaiah said “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity the sin of us all” and because of that, Isaiah also said “It pleased God to crush him”
God hates sin, so much that he gave the life of his only Son to destroy it. God hates sin, so much that Paul says it brings his wrath on the disobedient. Now here’s the thing: Scripture never says that God’s full, eternal wrath will come on Christians, on people that belong to Christ. In fact:
God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:9
Our sin doesn’t bring God’s final wrath. But it can bring God’s discipline on us, because God hates sin. Paul wants us to know that. Sin brings God’s wrath and his discipline. Because of that and because sin is contrary to our Destiny, Paul says we shouldn’t sin. Now Paul is going to make one more point today. He closes the passage with several verses that may seem a little unclear, but they basically all revolve around one reason we should not sin:
Because We Are The Light
Look at what God’s word says:
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.
– Ephesians 5:8
In many ways, this is the most important reason that Paul gives in this passage, because this reason isn’t about what’s contrary to our destiny. This is our destiny! We are the light. Notice that Paul doesn’t just say “We are in the light,” although the Bible does say that elsewhere. But here Paul says “We are the light.” In other words, this isn’t just about what we do. It’s about who we are. Jesus told his followers “You are the light of the world.” Notice we are right back at identity, aren’t we? Just like we were three or four messages ago, we have a new identity.
Now Paul calls us once again, just like he’s been calling us, to live our new identity out. He says “Live or literally “walk” as children of light. “Walk this way!” Paul goes on in this passage to tell us three things that will happen if we live as children of light. The first thing is:
- We will know what’s right and do it.
Look at what it says:
(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out (or literally ‘in finding out’) what pleases the Lord.
– Ephesians 5:9-10
It says the fruit or result of light is three things:
- Goodness, which is wanting what’s right.
- Righteousness, which is doing what’s right.
- Truth, which is thinking and speaking what’s right.
Then he says “The fruit of light is also “Finding out what pleases the Lord.”
In other words if I accept my identity as light and walk in it, putting on honesty and generosity and encouragement and forgiveness, the kinds of things Paul has been telling me to put on in this section of Ephesians, here’s what’s going to happen: My thinking is going to change, my behavior is going to change, my speech is going to change, and I will get better and better at knowing what pleases God. I will know what’s right and do it. That’s the first thing that will happen,.
- We will expose darkness for what it is.
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible
– Ephesians 5:11-13
Paul says we are to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness. How on earth do we do that? Do we become street preachers and shout out people’s sin? Do we pull our unbelieving neighbors aside and confront the sin we see in their life? Do we withdraw from the world and picket the dark places in our city? NO! Look at verse 12: Paul says it’s shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret our call is not to call it out.
So how do we expose the fruitless deeds of darkness? By doing what Paul has already told us to do, living a life of goodness, righteousness, and truth. Live as light next to the darkness. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it. You don’t have to straighten everyone else out. If you live a truly godly life, at some point they will see the difference. You don’t have to shine a light into darkness. If your light is really shining, all you have to do is be next to darkness for it to expose what’s hidden. Your godly lifestyle will expose darkness for what it is.
Now if you do that some people won’t like it. Some people will resent it. I’ve worked on jobs with guys that gave me a very hard time about my faith. I remember one guy on the construction job, when the Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart got caught in immorality, the guy would always call me “Jimmy Swaggart.” That was not fun! Some people won’t like it. But if we expose darkness, one other thing will happen.
- Some people will become light
It may look a little confusing your translation may say something different. Look at what Paul says:
for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
– Ephesians 5:14
In other words as you accept your identity and walk in the light, as you grow the fruit of goodness, and righteousness, and truth, and as that exposes the darkness the moral confusion and sin that people are living in, some people may withdraw from you. But others will stay there in your light. They will think about the difference between who you are and who they are. They will want what you have. They will receive Christ. They will rise from the dead. They will become light.
That’s how one step at a time God will transform not just one part of your life, not just your life, not just our church, but the community around us. That’s how Jesus’ light will shine, whether we are in Perry Creek or in another part of the city or in Honduras or in Mexico or anywhere. If we accept our true identity and live not in sin, which brings God’s wrath but live instead as light, we will (1) know what’s right and do it (2) we will expose darkness for what it is and (3) people will become light. That is our true destiny.