Discipleship (#4): “Called to Live in the Spirit”


Sermon Text: Ephesians 5:15-21
Main Points:
I. Called to understand the will of the Lord
II. Called to be filled with the Spirit
III. Called to live in the Spirit

In this month, we’ve been considering Christian discipleship and today is its fourth and last message. I want you to remember that discipleship is what we as Christians who truly believe and follow Christ do according to the words given to us in the Bible. Also I want you to not forget that every Christian is a disciple of Jesus because being a Christian means following Jesus and adhering to all His teaching.

Being a Jesus’ disciple and discipleship as what we Christians believe and do are closely connected to the idea of ‘being called.’ It means that we’re called by Jesus to be His disciples and live by His words. Our call is also to disciple people in the world, and together we’re called into God’s family.

In addition to these, the last aspect of our calling we’ll look into today is to ‘live in the Spirit.’ V. 18 of our text passage describes it as ‘being filled with the Spirit.’ As Jesus Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, thus, made us God’s beloved children and Jesus’ disciples, we ought to live in the Spirit. And we’ll follow what our text passage teaches us what it is to live in the Spirit.

First of all, our call as to live in the Spirit begins from our full and clear understanding of the will of the Lord, as v. 17 says. When you read vs. 17 and 18, you’ll see what I mean. V. 17 tells us to “not be foolish [i.e., ‘ignorant’ of something as is a fool] but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Then, v. 18 puts it another way, saying, “be filled with the Spirit.” These two verses explain and elaborate each other because ‘understanding the will of the Lord’ is what the Holy Spirit does in our human mind and heart. Jesus tells us in Jn. 14:26 that the Holy Spirit teaches all things and brings to our remembrance all that Jesus has said. Being attentive to the teaching of the Spirit, we may understand the Lord’s will. And understanding the Lord’s will is being filled with the Holy Spirit. So, the beginning of our call to live in the Spirit is to understand the Lord’s will for us.

And, now, we have this question – ‘What is the will of the Lord God?’ Thankfully, Jesus Christ has given a clear answer to this question in Jn. 6:40 in these words, “this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” The ‘will’ or intention or purpose of God is to give His eternal life to all who believe in the Son, Jesus Christ. And God does not leave what He wills and desires as purely a wish but carries out, and He implements it through giving His Spirit to all who ask in faith in the Son. Lk. 11:13 is clear about this, saying, “the heavenly Father [will surely] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!

Simply put, our call to live in the Spirit means that we understand this truth of the Holy Spirit being given to us through faith in Jesus, the Son. More importantly, we must understand that the Spirit of God is with us always and wherever we are. He indwells us! The Holy Spirit has been with each believer, Jesus’ disciple, from the moment he/she begins to trust in Jesus. And that, in full sense. The Holy Spirit does not begin His presence in the life of a Christian, pushing one of His toes in at his conversion, intending to gradually move in, yet depending on each believer’s progress in faith. That’s not how the Holy Spirit comes into a Christian and indwells him/her. At the very moment of conversion, as soon as one repents from sins and puts his trust in Jesus, the Spirit of God is given to him in full sense. He never observes a believer to decide whether to accelerate or decelerate His coming into the heart and life of that Christian.

Understanding this is, in fact, understanding the will of the Lord God. It might like a case of someone who has inherited a great amount of wealth. He now owns that wealth and that cannot be changed. The full inheritance is transferred over to his bank account; it does not start coming into his account a dollar a day – no, through one transaction, the full inheritance is now with him. Likewise, the Holy Spirit comes into a believer’s heart and begins His indwelling presence at the conversion. Knowing this is understanding the Lord’s will and the Lord’s will is to give all who trust in Jesus His eternal life.

Then, what would happen to you if you constantly aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life? What if your heart and soul constantly acknowledge the indwelling Spirit of God? You’d most likely interact with the Holy Spirit, listening to Him, speaking to Him, being challenged by Him, encouraged and comforted by Him, and so on. And it would never stop but continue. This is, in a word, what Christians do and that is Christian discipleship.

So, our call is to live in the Spirit, and our living in the Spirit begins from our understanding of the Holy Spirit’s presence with us always and everywhere. After all, through this understanding, we understand the will of the Lord.

Once you understand this, grasping the next point is easy – which is, we’re called to ‘be filled with the Spirit,’ as the second half of v. 18 says.

Let me remind you of what I’ve already explained earlier. This expression of ‘being filled’ does not mean an increasing or gradual possession of the Spirit. It does not mean that you begin with a small portion of the Spirit and gain more of Him in due course of time. No, that’s not what this teaches. If I may paraphrase ‘being filled with the Holy Spirit,’ it could be to ‘remain in or with the fullness of the Spirit.’

When we want to understand something, we usually look at what is opposite to that, making a clear contrast. Such is what the first half of v. 18 describes as ‘getting drunk with wine.’ Being filled with the Spirit is opposite to getting drunk with wine. When someone is drunk, that person has already had it. The amount of alcohol has already taken his sanity away. His blood alcohol concentration level is full and such intoxication causes senseless, reckless deeds and it is described as ‘unwise’ in v. 15 of our text passage.

Instead, our call is to remain in the Spirit of God who indwells us in His fullness who brings restoration of soul, leading to righteousness, bringing comfort and deep confidence in eternal joy. In fact, this is the familiar language of Ps. 23 we’ve read earlier today. So, remain with the fullness of the Spirit is ‘being filled with the Spirit.’

Some people say that ‘being filled’ with the Spirit is an extraordinary, supernatural or mystical experience and state. They say that ordinary things and works are not of ‘being filled’ with the Spirit. They say that something like speaking in tongues (which they define as ‘praying mysteries, without our understanding’ ) or healing or prophesying (in terms of fortune telling, as I see it) is being filled with the Holy Spirit. But that’s an arbitrary view. Being filled with the Spirit is being occupied in mind and heart and life with all and everything the Lord teaches through His Word as interpreted and instructed by the Holy Spirit. It’s no more and no less than that. It is extraordinarily ordinary – if you know what I mean. In a word, being occupied with what we Christians are supposed to do is being filled with the Spirit.

This is to live in the Spirit which is our third and last point to consider. Vs. 19-21 of today’s passage beautifully sums up what living in the Spirit is in four actions. Firstly, ‘addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’; secondly, ‘singing and making melody to the Lord with our hearts’; thirdly, ‘giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in Jesus’ name’; and fourthly, ‘submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.’

By the way, aren’t these the ordinary things we Christians do day after day since we became Jesus’ disciples? We speak to one another in the Lord while we praise God; we give thanks to the Lord while we submit to each other in the love of Jesus. If we simplify these four actions, if we squeeze them to extract its essence, we get Jesus’ summary of all commands of God as found in Mt. 22 – that is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” So, Christian’s life is to love our God and love our neighbour. That’s what living in the Spirit is all about.

That said, let us briefly examine what each of these four actions mean and what challenges we have to fully live in the Holy Spirit. First of all, we ‘address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.’ Many people quote this verse as a proof text for what to sing in public worship services. They try to categorise psalms, hymns and spiritual songs and argue that we could and should sing certain types of songs in worship. While that is a legitimate interpretation of this section, in this context, it means something different; ‘addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’ is what we address one another in our gatherings, serving as a means of mutual edification, instruction and exhortation for comforting and strengthening one another in the Lord. Col. 3:16 gives a further light to this explanation by saying, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, [which is what follows in the same verse, that is] singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

In other words, when you speak to fellow believers in church or at home, you listen to each other and share each one’s thoughts on various issues. In doing so, you address God’s word to your fellow Christians and vice versa. The words you share come from the Bible, often rephrased with your own seasonings ripened through a maturing process of faith with your life’s experience. I wonder whether the apostle Paul pictured in his heart that Christian’s sharing God’s words in this manner was like their exchanging sweet love songs to each other, like the birds that flock together sing to each other in a beautiful language known to them and their Creator alone. The apostle Peter adds to this, saying that whoever speaks, speak “as one who speaks oracles of God.” And this oracle or word of God is sweet to the psalmist’s taste as in Ps. 119 and, in fact, “sweeter than honey” to his mouth! In short, addressing one another in the Lord, listening and speaking to each other in the Lord is to live in the Spirit.

The next action that is a part of living in the Spirit is ‘singing and making melody to the Lord with our hearts.’ Simply, our worship to God in spirit and truth. We’re urged to not skip or miss Sunday worship services; we’re led in our worship to repentance and challenged to trust the Lord more. We bow our heads together in prayer and pour our heart’s petitions to the Lord; we stand and raise our voices in singing praises to God. All these things are, to God’s eyes, our singing and making melody to Him with our hearts. No matter how flat your singing is, no matter how brief or mumble your prayer is, as you bring your worship to God with your heart, deeply saturated with thanks to God because of Jesus, you’re making a beautiful melody to the Lord, and that is your living in the Spirit.

The third part of living in the Holy Spirit is our ‘giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in Jesus’ name.’ Isn’t it what we always endeavour and desire to do? Let me point out to you as an example what the apostle Paul thanked for as he wrote in 2 Cor. 11:30, “I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” Again he says in 2 Cor. 12:9, talking about God’s rejection of his prayer for removal of a ‘thorn’ in his flesh, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” He thanked the Lord for all things and everything of him.

A minister was famous for his pulpit prayers. He always found something to thank God for, even in bad times. One stormy morning, a member of his congregation thought to himself, ‘The preacher will have nothing to thank God on a wretched morning like this.’ But the minister began his prayer, saying, ‘We thank You, O God, that it is not always like this.’ Truth is that we all seek to do likewise, thanking the Lord for all things, including bad things. And as we yearn this and give thanks to God for all things, we live in the Spirit of God.

The last action in living in the Spirit is ‘our submission to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ As we briefly heard last Sunday, we’re to respect and obey to our church leaders. And the leaders know that they’re servants of God, and in love, serve and minister to God’s people in the Lord’s church. This mutual submission exists between parents and children, between husbands and wives, between fellow believers. We submit to one another indeed and that, out of reverence for Christ as He came to die to save us, as He came not to be served but to serve. So, submission to each other in Jesus is to live in the Holy Spirit, and also being filled with the Spirit.

Let me point out to you what v. 15 of our text passage urges as our conclusion for this morning. It says, “Look carefully then how you walk [that is, ‘discipleship’].” And v. 15 continues, “not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Some people take it as an urgent admonition for Christians of the 21st century because this generation is getting worse than ever, eviler than ever. But that’s not what it means. Rather than each generation becoming crueller and eviler, sin has always been here in the world in its full sense; our grandparent’s generation is same as ours in sin and our generation is as evil as that of Noah’s time.

So, as true believers, as true disciples of Jesus, we ought to look carefully how we walk, reflecting our thoughts and words and deeds onto the very word of God and listening and adhering to the Holy Spirit’s teaching of the word. That is our call, to live in the Spirit. ***

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