These notes from Paul Tothill are based a version of his message preached at Kingsgate Church, London, on 30/6/19.
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I am told over the past while you have been traversing the Book of Ephesians. I have the privilege to add to that journey today. Please open your Bibles to Ephesians 4 and we are going to read from verse 1 to 6.
EPHESIANS 4:1-6 (TPT)
As a prisoner of the Lord, I plead with you to walk holy, in a way that is suitable to your high rank, given to you in your divine calling. With tender humility and quiet patience always demonstrate gentleness and generous love toward one another, especially towards those who may try your patience. Be faithful to guard the sweet harmony of the Holy Spirit among you in the bonds of peace, being one body and one spirit as you were all called into the same glorious hope of divine destiny. For the Lord God is one and so are we, for we share in one faith, one baptism and one Father. And He is the perfect Father who leads us all, works through us all and lives in us all!
This is a very deep construction of verses. They find their foundation in the preceding three chapters of Paul’s letter and Paul’s other letters to the church.. In effect he is mapping out the amazing power of the Gospel and God’s grace towards us to bring us back into a deep and loving relationship with the Father in the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. The fact Paul finishes this passage with a conclusive statement is very important for us to understand. And He is the perfect Father who leads us all, works through us all and lives in us all!
There is little doubt to my mind that Paul is drawing heavily upon his own experience and encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and his ten or so years back in Tarsus where he contemplated these things. The experiential reality of the Holy Spirit in his life and His revelation worked together to urge the churches of the reality of this superior relational administration of the new divine nature each believer carried to come into their high calling: not just individually, but as a Spirit people.
What is not that obvious is that Paul had a particular Biblical world view in mind of the cosmic spiritual reality that God is outworking in and through the church. This is hinted at in Ephesians Chapter 2. We have been reunited with the Father and we join in the perichoresis of the Godhead. This relationship is fundamental to our life into this fallen world.
We have, if you will, be taken out of this fallen imperfect (dark) world and seated with Christ Jesus in heavenly places in our spirit that is joined with Christ. We do not occupy a position of authority and audience only. We are seated in and with Christ in a place of government that is outworked relationally with God fundamentally through the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul is at pains to make clear the administration of the Holy Spirit in our life as being fundamental to living in this world. Our transformation into the Holy of Holies, as God’s permanent earthly dwelling place is by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In all of this through our salvation we identify as God’s royal family members and we function as His earthly kings and priests. In many ways Paul seems to have in sight here the imagery of ancient thought and world view. That world view is fundamentally different from the one we are used to in our fallen world context. I shall return to this a little later.
Most importantly what Paul is imploring or exhorting the reader of the letter to engage in is the spiritual reality of what they have been brought into and have it manifest through their life by faith as a new way of living. I want to remind you of how faith is defined and considered in Hebrews 11.
Now faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things unseen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
(Verse 6) And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Paul works very hard to help remind his reader understand that the heavenly spiritual realities are in deed real. And it is those heavenly spiritual realities that shape our life in the world.
It is permissible to join our faith with our Spirit led and empowered imagination. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind (imagination).” Paul tells the Colossians to feast on all the treasures of the heavenly realm and fill your thoughts with heavenly realities and not with the distractions of the natural realm. (Colossians 3:1-2) He is very much reminding the reader that there is an unseen world, an invisible world that is very real and in which there are spiritual realities that we are interacting with and indeed living from into the seen world around us. Again faith lays hold of these things and trusts in the word of God that these things are real and now available to us by faith.
THE WORLD IS A PLACE OF A SPIRITUAL BATTLE
For Paul an expert in the Scriptures of the Old Testament by confession, he understood that the world was made up of both geography and people and unseen spiritual powers and authorities, and there was indeed a cosmic spiritual battle that continued and indeed continues to this day.
For many of us in contemporary society we are largely unaware of the unseen spiritual realm and the battle that is going on around us and that interacts with us in our daily affairs. By contrast for Paul and the people of the Bible including the early church this was normal. We are also not completely aware as was Paul that we have been given a high rank in the spiritual world and in God’s Kingdom. We are in fact a ruling class spiritual being.
We are predestined to not only be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus, He, therefore, being our perfect example of a mature son of God in His humanity in perfect holiness in the world, but as born again believers functioning daily as both kings and priests designed to carry spiritual governmental authority in our life and through our life, revealing the wisdom of Christ to spiritual powers and God’s love and power as truth towards people. What Paul was living, he was now urging all believers to live and dedicate themselves to. Dr Michael Heiser makes an interesting observation:
If we are instruments of God in the same way Paul was an instrument of God then why was he so much more influential and effective? One difference is that Paul understood what his life was about. He believed the powers that had dominion over the earth were real- that the power behind and within him was greater.
This is a great foundation to introduce the idea of holiness as it was perhaps understood in Biblical times and at least perhaps as Paul understood it. We must remember Paul was living from both experience and revelation from the Holy Spirit. He was a scholar of renown of the Tankh or the Scriptures, what we would call the Old Testament. He understood the Bible and the world through a particular world view. For him and everyone in the Bible the idea of their being a seen realm, geography, people, time space and substance with various physical laws and an unseen realm or invisible spiritual world with different laws but established and held together by God’s words was obvious. Indeed His very teaching is based on this well-known understanding of how the world works. Indeed the very meaning of faith as I have mentioned must understand this is how the world is compromised.
Paul understands that like Jesus we are born into a world with a prophetic destiny, that only finds its reality in Christ Jesus and being born again, and as Paul makes plain by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit in our life. We are born for a purpose.
However we are born into a fallen world that is ruled by the Prince of the Air. The idea of death for Paul had multiple meanings depending on its context. But the spirit of this age corrupts the minds and hearts of humans who live in a spiritual environment of darkness or what Paul calls death. That spirit establishes and influences systems and people’s minds and hearts. Let’s remind ourselves of Ephesians 2:2.
It wasn’t that long ago that you lived in the religion, customs and values of this world, obeying the dark ruler of the earthly realm who fills the atmosphere with his authority and works diligently in the hearts of those who are disobedient to the truth of God. The corruption that was in us from birth was expressed through the deeds and desires of our self-life. We lived by whatever natural cravings and thoughts our minds dictated….
Death is associated with sin and the flesh. This is important in the context of Paul’s other revelatory teaching.
For the law of the Spirit of life flowing though the anointing of Jesus has liberated us from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law was unable to accomplish, because the law was limited by the weakness of human nature.
Yet God sent us his Son in human form to identify with human weakness. Clothed with humanity, God’s son gave his body to be the sin-offering so that God could once and for all condemn guilt and the power of sin. So now every righteous requirement of the law can be fulfilled through the Anointed One living his life in us. And we are free to live, not according to our flesh, but by the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit!
Those who are motivated by the flesh only pursue what benefits themselves. But those who live by the impulses of the Holy Spirit are motivated to pursue spiritual realities. For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set controlled by the Spirit finds life and peace.
In fact the mind-set focused on the flesh fights God’s plan and refuses to submit to his direction, because it cannot! For no matter how hard they try, God finds no pleasure with those who are controlled by the flesh. But when the Spirit of Christ empowers your life you are not dominated by the flesh but by the Spirit. And if you are not joined to the Spirit if the Anointed One, you are not of him.
Now Christ lives his life in you! And even though your body may be dead because of the effects of sin, his life giving Spirit imparts life to you because you are fully accepted by God. Yes God raised Jesus to life! And since God’s Spirit of Resurrection lives in you, he will also raise your dying body to life by the same Spirit that breathes life into you!
So then, beloved ones, the flesh has no claims on us at all and we have no further obligation to live in obedience to it. For when you are controlled by the flesh, you are about to die. But if life is in the Spirit puts to death the corrupt ways of the flesh we then taste his abundant life.
The person of the Holy Spirit is God. He is the Holy Spirit, therefore the blood of Jesus and the new life of Christ, as your new nature, have a genuine importance to the conversation about holiness. Remember the revelation about the grace gift of the Holy Spirit is central to Paul’s teaching and faith-living.
THE ORIGINS OF HOLINESS
Every believer is sacred space in which God dwells by the new life and power of the Holy Spirit. Hence Paul uses Temple language to create the imagery of this invisible spiritual reality. However the idea of the temple originated in the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden was indeed sacred space. It was like God, to be holy ground, a place that would be defined by God’s manifest presence and governmental realm, set apart from the world to be unique and not the same as the world represented as darkness that its borders were to invade.
This idea of holiness and sacred space translates to each gathering of God’s Spirit people- His church. It is a place that is other-worldly and unique marked by the Presence of God dwelling in every believer. We start to see that living yielded to the Holy Spirit and living by the leading and impulses of the Holy Spirit cause us to rule over our self-life, and respond in faith to the revelation of God’s word revealed to us as life. Our self-life or our old nature- a pattern of thinking, and the automatic passions of the unsanctified emotions and desires- is associated with darkness and spiritual death, in terms of corruption as opposed to life and holiness.
Now Jesus used a phrase that helps us here. He said you are not of this world, you are other-worldly into this world. You are not of the world but you are most certainly in the world.
That means your holiness, sacred space and the presence of God are interrelated. Look what Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane in JOHN 17:16
“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world”
This is not a new reality but an old one that Jesus was restating. All through the Bible God reveals Himself as nothing like the other gods and nothing like the world. He is Holy. When Isaiah prophesied to Israel he spoke God’s words to them:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than you thoughts.
Understanding these threads to walk in holiness we are not to live in any measure from the spirit of the world and the flesh- our old fallen nature and thinking, and unsanctified feelings but by the impulses of the Holy Spirit as God’s indwelling presence that anoints us as being holy, set apart and other from the world. Remember Paul associates the world as other apostles do with spiritual death and darkness. That we are sacred ground and that when we come together as those anointed and set apart from God to be in Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit into the world, we start to realise that when we come together in agreement it means the spiritual geography we occupy is sanctified, set apart by God in the midst of the powers of darkness.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done and he rested on the seventh day from all that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because in it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
Humanity as an image bearer of God and commissioned to carry God’s governmental authority beyond the boundaries of Eden, was to live in intimate connection with God and in His presence and from the fullness of His governmental heavenly realm.
Remember Eden was the meeting place between heaven and earth. The idea of holiness has multiple levels but includes being other than the world, unique like God. Hence be Holy as I am holy. It also means living completely relying on God’s faithfulness. It also means to be distinct from the world or not embracing evil or sin. We do all of these things when we walk in the way of God’s love and humility. Paul tells us if we live yielded to the Holy Spirit we will soar above the law. He also tells us that if we love one another we have fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law. These are all interrelated ideas of holiness.
Paul is really emphasising to the Ephesians church because of all these things when he says:
I plead with you to walk holy, in a way that is suitable to your high rank given to you in your divine calling. With tender humility and quiet patience always demonstrate gentleness and generous love towards one another, especially to those who may try your patience.
GUARDING THE SWEET HARMONY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Paul the apostle teaches us elsewhere in Romans 8:14, “The mature children of God are those who are moved by the impulses of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus taught on the Sermon of the Mount, in Matthew 5:9
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God. Or as another translation describes, “How joyful it is when you make peace. For then you will be recognised as a true child of God!”
It is painfully obvious that holiness and living the life of holiness as love cannot be lived out in the flesh. Rather is it lived out living a life yielded and surrendered to the Holy Spirit and the revealed words of God to our heart. Similarly we cannot successfully live in unity by the flesh and only by living fully yielded to the Holy Spirit as the indwelling Holy Spirit as the indwelling presence of God. After all the Holy Spirit is God and He is holy. Hence Jesus gives us a further clue in John 17:14
I have given them your message and that is why the unbelieving world hates them. For their allegience is no longer to this world because I am not of this world. I am not asking that you remove them from the world, but I ask that you guard their hearts from evil. For they no longer belong to this world any more than I do.
And I ask not only for these disciples but also for all those who will one day believe in me through their message. I pray for them all to be joined together as one even as you and I, Father, are joined together as one. I pray for them to become one with us so that the world will recognise that you sent me. For the very glory you have given to me I have given to them so that they may be joined together as one and experience the same unity that enjoy! You live fully in me and now I live fully in them so that they may experience perfect unity and the world will be convinced that you have sent me, for they will see that you love each one of them with the same passionate love that you have for me.
Paul lays a careful foundation in the first three chapters of the Book of Ephesians of our spiritual reality. This is as real as the world around us. In fact it influences and effects our life and our world. He makes plain that from his world view the church is to continue with the Commission that was originally given to Adam and Eve from a place of God’s rest, His fullness and faithfulness empowered by the Presence of God and now restored through Jesus and the finished work of the Cross.
Now believers are to live from these spiritual realities as truth, the evidence of God’s faithfulness by the promised grace gift of the Holy Spirit into world. They are unique and other worldly in their living, which means their thinking and their understanding. They come together in holiness leading to the bond of peace and expressions of God’s love all the while driving out evil, or darkness around them. The church as a Spirit people, who has audience and authority in heavenly places establish their whole life by the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit, no longer holding to the pattern of this world and stepping into their God destined journey to bring forward the future Kingdom by actions of love and faith and keeping the bond of peace.
Like Jesus we are to live not only full of the Holy Spirit, we are to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus went into the desert to take on demonic powers He was in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. He defeated the enemy to walk in holiness by the power of God’s word in His mouth. The Holy Spirit is not only God. He is the Spirit of Holiness and truth. He will guide us into all truth and cause us to keep our holiness in the world. Just as Jesus relied on every present word of God, so must we find who we are as God tells us. This is what Paul is at pains to tells us as the foundation to how we are to live.
We live from who the word tells us we are into the “spiritual darkness or death” around us. We must remember that God is life, and always associated with abundant life. He is not associated with death, darkness, sickness, disease, poverty or lack . He is the creator- life- giving God. He is associated with life, holiness, and fullness with no measure of lack or evil, darkness or corruption in him or the words He speaks and reveals to us.
God does not want us to walk in the concept of holiness but in the reality of it by faith from our new life in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit as the indwelling presence of God. The crucifixion of Jesus and his blood sanctifies us and makes us fit for God’s presence. In Christ we are holy. In Christ our new divine nature grows as we believe God’s truth about what Jesus has done, who we are and how the world around us works in both the unseen invisible spiritual sense and the natural seen sense. Of course we are not perfect, we all have imperfections, but God is not dealing with us on the basis of our imperfections but our new nature and union with Christ.
We are a sacred space. When we come together we are an expression of the Eden on earth. We need to preserve that and understand that and guard that reality in our hearts. Of course that does not mean we cannot sin or be tempted to sin. We must see that sin is no part of our world as those who by divine calling are to be holy and through God’s grace and the Spirit live holy lives into the world. When we come together in unity we create holy ground and we drive back and drive out darkness. We leave from the meetings carrying God’s space, the indwelling Holy Spirit into our spheres of influence.
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