Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 9/16/99
Today we come to Eph. 5:5-7. After being edified by a stream of verses giving practical instruction for walking worthily of our calling, this passage hits like a slap in the face. It presents 3 problems: Doctrinal, how does this fit with Eph. 2:8-10, the locus classicus for sola gratia and sola fide; Hermeneutical, why is this passage here and how does it function rhetorically in the development of the argument; and Practical, what do we do a bout it. The solutions to the first two problems will probably provide the key to the 3rd.
This very book emphasizes that salvation is by grace through faith apart from works, i.e., it is for the undeserving, for sinners, and not based in any sense on performance. So how do sexual impurity, greed, and idolatry suddenly become unpardonable sins? What the passage says is that the impure, the covetous, and the idolatrous will not have a place in the kingdom: not that people who have ever done these things are lost, but that people for whom they are such a part of their lifestyle that they become part of their very identity are lost. People who continue in sin, in other words, without a break, are not in the kingdom, no matter what "profession" they make with their lips. This does not contradict 2:8-10 at all, but merely stresses the point that we are saved by faith, not by a mere empty profession of faith. Paul makes a similar point in 1 Cor. 6:9ff--"and such WERE some of you, but you were washed . . ." You cannot be saved by changing, but being saved will change you. And if no change takes place, there has been no salvation. There is no eternal security and no assurance of salvation for people who are living in sin, or who return to sin and stay there. This is not a counsel of perfection, nor does it return us to a performance-based theology. One is not saved by attaining to a certain standard nor lost by failing to meet it. But if one has truly turned to Christ, then there is a new direction, a new trajectory to his life. He may stumble, he may take three steps forward and two back; but unless he is stumbling in a new direction he is simply self-deluded if he thinks he is saved. To tell people that they are eternally secure because they have recited or even agreed to the right formula is defined in v. 6 as "deception" and "empty words." That is Paul's description of the watered-down Gospel preached by most so-called Evangelicals today, in which Christ can be Savior without being Lord.
Why say this now, and what purpose does it serve in the development of Paul's argument. It is not to contradict or even compromise our commitment to sola gratia and sola fide, but to keep us from drawing false conclusions from them. It is not to return us to a performance-based spirituality, or even to motivate us by fear: "Better watch out; if you do this stuff again you will go straight to Hell!" If it were, it would contradict Eph. 2:8-10. Also, this section is addressed to Believers who want to know how better to walk worthily, not to carnal Christians who need to be warned back from the brink. So how does it advance Paul's agenda? It does it by reminding us that sin is opposed to everything we are about, and by motivating us, not through fear of damnation, but rather fear of confusion. Since this stuff belongs to the ungodly life, do not play at brinksmanship with it or flirt with it. All of you who are true Christians made a break with sin when you were converted. All of you who are normal human beings did it very imperfectly. So make sure it is a clean break,so that the line between the Church and the World is not blurred. The whole purpose of salvation is to glorify Christ in the Church by walking worthily of Him. How is He supposed to be glorified by confusion? So eschew all sin as unworthy, as belonging to the lifestyle of Death rather than life, as being appropriate to those outside the Kingdom. Not just the gross sins like impurity, but greed and idolatry and being a moron on your conversation, too. So, solving the first two problems has indeed solved the third: do not be partakers with them, for these reasons.
Here endeth the lesson.