Jesus was a remarkable teacher. He never ceased to amaze those who heard. Against the interpretations of the Law in His day, Jesus set His own. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus acknowledged that he did not come to do away with the Law, but he came to fulfill it. The six antitheses (“You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…”) found in Matthew 5 reveal this interpretation of Christ that stood against the spiritual leaders of the first century. Through his teaching, Jesus delivered an authoritative way of life that was to be followed by His disciples. Those who are baptized must be taught, “to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus not only taught, He lived as an example. He said, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
There are two sides to being a Christian – believing and behaving. Believing is foundational. It involves the initial faith to which we come when we Jesus for who he really is – the Savior of the world. We understand that in order to be a Christian one must first believe in Christ. That belief must lead to our obedience in the process of receiving the gracious gift of salvation from God. But it is not enough to just believe. Our lives must be altered when we approach the altar of God. That transformation is illustrated in the way we act. Behaving is the other side to being a Christian. Paul tells Timothy, “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God” (1 Timothy 3:15). Essentially, Paul is speaking of morality and community. Does our faith in Christ drive our actions both within the community of believers and out in the communities in which we live and work? Faith and actions are the key aspects of Christianity.
This discussion of the new way of life to which we are called must include the nature of Christian ethics. We find the origin of this topic throughout the New Testament. Peter says, “He (Christ) bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). In coming to understand the redemptive work of Christ, we are set free to live a new life. We learn some general principles of Christian faith as Paul encourages, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). It is God who works in us. We do not work “for” salvation. The Christian life is both a gift and a task. And when I say task, I am not referring to “self-help.” Our “TASK” is to become what we are in Christ – children of God, holy, and justified. Jesus said, “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Jesus says that an identifying mark of His people is the way they live and love. Jesus also said, “By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:20). This gift and task clearly incorporate the sacrifice of Christ and the obedient faith we must possess. Thanks be to God that he strengthens us with the ability to accomplish that to which he calls us.
So what’s so special about this new life? And what about Christian ethics? In Ephesians, Paul gives the greatest attention to the doctrine of the Church. Within this letter we find the root of the Christian ethics tree. Christian ethics is related to the kind of person God is. Paul gives a description of this new life and likens it to the nature of God. This new life is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Christian ethics is related to the kind of person Christ is. Paul says, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). Christian ethics is related to the Holy Spirit. Paul urges believers to not grieve the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit we have been given as a seal or guarantee for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). Certainly, Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit is fitting in any discussion on the Christian’s lifestyle (Galatians 5:16-26).
When we engage in a discussion of this new life in Christ, where we end up is addressing the practice of holiness. As Paul addressed his letter to the church in Ephesus, he identified them as “saints.” The word “saint” comes from the Greek word, “hagios.” This word means holy. Essentially, Paul addresses this letter to “the ‘holy ones’”. This identification receives added weight when Paul explains the love Christ has for the church, “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27). The purpose of Christ’s love for the church is to make her holy. “There is a conduct that is fitting for ‘saints’ (Ephesians 5:3), because in Christ there is a ‘new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (Ephesians 4:24).” Peter stated it clearly as he shared the words of God, “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:13-16). God’s people are special. We have a holiness given to us by God. God’s desire is that His people live their lives appropriate to their holy status. That means living a life according to God’s will. But we do not have to rely on our own power to fulfill this. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of righteousness in the obedient believer. Our faith driven to action is the basis of the new way of life in Christ.