As another year passes into history, I once again take stock of my life and contemplate what things I might do to make my walk in Christ Jesus more faithful and productive. There are many areas where there is so much room for improvement. It’s tempting to give up and come to grips with the fact that I’ll always be merely a sinner saved by grace and let it go at that.
Unfortunately, far too many Christians have taken that path of “effortless faith” in blatant disobedience to God’s word. Obedience is difficult. It requires us to release our illusion of being at the center of the universe and to submit our hearts and minds to the will of the Almighty. We have no other option if we desire the fruits of the Spirit in this life and the hope of eternity in the one to come.
Disobedience constitutes deliberate sin, about which we are sternly warned, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26-28). That gets my attention.
In keeping with my desire to be obedient, I continue to search God’s word for instruction that leads to His righteousness. I was recently studying Ephesians, chapter four, and discovered a dozen imperatives that I have adopted as my 2022 New Year’s resolutions. They are as follows:
1. Live a life worthy of the calling you received (4:1). Believers have a high calling to be living examples of the gospel message. We are ambassadors of Jesus Christ, ministers, and messengers of His reconciliation to the world. I don’t want my life, what I say and do, to contradict that calling. Faithful and true is our best course if we are wise.
2. Be completely humble and gentle (4:2). Not counting ourselves more important than we should is vital. The word is clear that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble and will lift them up in due time. The last thing any of us needs is opposition from God!
3. Be patient, bearing with one another in love (4:2). God, in His love, is patient with all of us in our failures and shortcomings. Not bearing with others suggests that we don’t require the same grace others need. We should all try to give at least as much space as we take, and as much mercy as we ourselves might need someday. For me, that is a lot!
4. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (4:3). Jesus prayed (John 17) that His believers would have complete unity so that the world would know the gospel. Since peace and harmony are what hold us together, we need to make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Romans 14:19).
5. No longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking (4:17). Transformed minds are holy and set apart for God’s purposes. Satan is sneaky and we are so easily tempted to compromise our faith. Making every thought captive and staying focused on His Kingdom will keep us away from indulging our natural sinful nature.
6. Put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor (4:25). Everyone who loves and practices falsehood is locked outside the city of God (Revelation 22:15). Lies come from fear of being exposed as the frauds we so often are, or from a desire to control others. Jesus is truth and will not tolerate deceit. Try as we may, we cannot deceive Him.
7. In your anger, do not sin; don’t let the sun set on your anger, and do not give the devil a foothold (4:26-27). Everyone gets mad sometimes. However, our anger never brings about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:20). We all need to learn to creatively deal with those things (and people) that upset us or we risk losing our peace and falling into deep sin.
8. Quit stealing; work and start sharing (4:28). Most of us are not thieves, tithes and income taxes notwithstanding. We all need to make an honest living and look for opportunities to share God’s manifest blessings with those who have needs. Generosity is an antidote for dishonesty, and productivity is a blessing to our whole community.
9. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building up others according to their needs, so that it may benefit those who listen (4:29). This is not just about cursing. We can actually create or destroy blessings by the words of our mouth. Because we must give an account of everything we say, we need to guard our lips. Words can either build up others or defile ourselves, so we need to think twice before we speak once and never miss a chance to just shut up.
10. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (4:30). 1 Thessalonians 5:19 admonishes us not to “put out the Spirit’s fire.” He is the supernatural source of our strength, revelation, and power. Apart from Him, we have no hope of overcoming sin or pleasing God.
11. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice (4:31). Bitterness comes from harboring resentment that can flare up into rage and anger when provoked. We must keep short accounts and forgive others quickly or we find ourselves overcome with malice that defiles and hinders the Body of Christ, as well as destroying ourselves.
12. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (4:32). Forgiveness is the natural fruit of kindness and compassion. The standard is high. We must forgive as we have been forgiven by God. Remember the unforgiving servant had his mercy revoked because he failed to extend it to another (Matthew 18). God is not mocked; we reap what we sow.
Finally, verse 5:1 pretty much sums up the whole list by encouraging us to “be imitators of God, as dearly beloved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
That is our greatest challenge. We cannot, in the energy of our own flesh, love anybody like Christ loves us. However, as we depend on the Holy Spirit to help us be consistently intentional in our daily walk with the Lord, we will be a better reflection of Him.
May the Almighty have mercy on us all as we seek to submit ourselves more perfectly to His will and His ways in the coming year. Grace and peace be upon you and yours.
[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]