Lesson 4: Grace That Sanctifies

A thick head can do as much damage as a hard heart!

– Harold Dodds

Devotion: Read Ephesians 4:17-5:2. Almost all of Paul’s letters to churches have a passage like this, where he encourages them in specific ways to live righteous lives. The advice he gives varies a little depending on the community of faith, but all his counsel is built on the same assumption: we must choose faithfulness, make an effort, and do our best! Being a Christian is hard work! God provides the grace that sanctifies, but we must allow this process of transformation to happen. Each of us can turn away and reject grace, but when we submit to the Spirit, God is faithful to work within us. While our good works do not justify us, we contribute to our sanctification through our efforts to resist evil, embrace the freedom and power God gives us, and seek to live as holy (“set apart”) people of God. To which piece of Paul’s advice and encouragement in this reading do you need to pay most attention? Why is hardening of heart such a common problem among the faithful? Is anger, stealing, or “evil talk” more of a problem for you?

Personal Worship Option: Read Proverbs 28:13-14. Why does the writer juxtapose courage with a hardened heart? What is the connection between those two? How might it take courage to soften your heart? In what areas of your life have you refused to let God lead or change you?

Dig A Little Deeper:

4:17 “Gentiles” refers to non-Christians in general, not to Christians with Gentile backgrounds. This is clear in that many of the original readers were former Gentiles (2:11).

4:19 When we sin, we should feel guilt. However, sinful choices dull our conscience, making us insensitive to healthy guilt (which is different from feeling guilt for things beyond our control). Do you see a connection between increased faith and increased awareness of sin/guilt?

4:22 The sequence of phrases “put away,” “be renewed,” and “clothe yourselves” are taken from the early church’s baptismal liturgy. Baptismal candidates remove their clothing, are plunged into the water naked, are anointed with oil (“chrism”), and then put on new white clothing. This practice emphasizes the old person is put off and the new person emerges.  

The goal is to encourage readers to separate themselves from their former pagan practices: sexual immorality, greed, stealing, etc. From what common cultural practices do Christian need to separate themselves now?

4:25 “We are members of one another” refers to how Christians live in the faith community (1 Cor 12:12-31). The expectations for church members are truthfulness, forgiveness, honesty, uplifting speech, peacefulness, kindness, compassion, and love. Do you think of faith as primarily an individual or communal experience? How does viewing faith as an individual experience change our definition of spiritual growth? What role does a church community play for those with an individual focus? How might an individual focus corrupt worship?

4:28 What reason is given for people to work? How is that reasoning different from cultural perspectives on work today?

4:30 Injury caused to others signifies a lack of respect for the Holy Spirit.

5:1 Do not let the change in chapter throw you off. We are called to forgive others (4:32), imitating God’s example of forgiving us. When we forgive, we are acting like children of God. When we love to the point of sacrificing self for others, we are following Jesus’ example and worshipping God is the fullest sense (1 Jn 3:16). Regarding “a fragrant offering, read Exodus 29:18 and Ezekiel 20:41.

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