As a Christian, you’ve been adopted by God the Father, given a new identity, and welcomed into a family with Jesus as your big Brother. You’ve been adopted to worship. So, do not engage in sinful behavior. Do imitate God by walking in love as children of light, discerning what pleases him, making the best use of time, being filled with the Spirit, giving thanks, and submitting to one another.
I AM ADOPTED
All right, Ephesians 5:1–21—find it in your Bible. We’ll read it. I’m supposed to start with a funny story to capture all your attention. I got nothing. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re just going to read the Bible, OK? You ready? Whoo, whoo, all right, both of you are excited. That’s great. At least I’m not alone. All right, Ephesians 5—it’s in the Bible—1–21. Whoo! Whoo! If you don’t have a good story or illustration, just fire them up with enthusiasm. That’s what I’ve always believed.
OK, here we go. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” But—here we go. You having a good day? OK, we’ll fix that. Here we go—“But sexual immorality”—all the single guys, “What’s that mean in the Greek?” You don’t need to know Greek to know what that means. Stop it.
“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints.” That’s your identity: you’re a saint, if you’re a Christian. “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking”—even in a locker room? Yes—“which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is “sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
You say, “Well, I—I read a book and a guy said that’s not true.” “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partakers with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
“And do not get drunk with wine”—“What about whiskey?” Yeah, that too—“for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” A lot to say.
Two lists: the first one is “Do Not!” That’s what he says—“Do not!” And there’s a long list. Look at this list!
Do not engage in sexual immorality or impurity. “I thought it an alternative lifestyle.” No, it’s immorality and impurity. “What if she’s hot?” So is hell. Put your hands back where they belong. “What if we’re married in God’s eyes?” God’s eyes are flaming, burning red. I assure you, you’re not married in his eyes. “What if we’re gonna get married? What if we’ve known each other for a long time? Wha—” Put your hands down. No! No more touching, no! “Well, what if—” No!
“Pastor Mark, what’s it say in the Greek?” It says you’re nasty. That’s what it says in the Greek. You could always tell a dirty twenty-something-year-old guy on the run because he’s doing Greek word studies on things like Ephesians 5:3. “Well, I found a guy who said it’s fine in the ancient world.” “Do not engage in”—and that’s a big junk-drawer word. Friends with benefits, adultery, pornography—whatever. Just big old bucket of nastiness. No!
Number two, do not engage in covetousness. We call it advertising and marketing. See, we just rename things, right? So, coveting is when you’re like, “Boy, that’s a nice car. I wish I had that car.” “Oh, they’re an attractive person. I wish I was beautiful like them.” “Pastor Mark has a huge neck. I wish I had a huge neck.” It’s when you see desirable things and you long for them in an unhealthy way.
Number three, do not participate in filthiness, foolish talk, or crude humor. Right? How many of you guys say stuff when you’re with the guys that you would never say when the gals are around. You say, “Don’t tell them that.” It’s inappropriate, crude, sexual, base, vulgar, joking and jesting. I don’t know if women do this a lot. I know that men do, right? He says, “No. Do not.”
Do not associate with sinful behavior, number four. It doesn’t say, “Don’t associate with sinful people,” because you’d need to find a new planet, and that’s a big inconvenience. But don’t participate in sinful behavior—meaning, if some people are doing something that’s wrong, you can’t do what they’re doing.
And the Holy Spirit will convict you, and you’ll know. “I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be doing this. This is wrong. I know my group of friends does this, but I’ve got to extricate myself. I’ve got to walk away because this is not what I’m supposed to be doing. It doesn’t mean I can’t love them, I can’t be friends with them, I can’t communicate with them. But when they’re going to do that, I can’t go with them.”
Right, ladies? This is like your single girlfriends. Friday night they get dressed up. Their hem line and neck line meet, and they’re going out to do nefarious things. You say, “You know what? I’m going to find some sweats and just love Jesus, OK?” You can’t do what they’re doing.
Number five, do not take part in works of darkness, but expose them. And this can be all kinds of things, all manner of things. This can be pagan spirituality, participation in other religions. This can be whatever—and I love just the language. It’s just dark. What we tend to is when we’re in darkness, it’s because we’re hiding. We’re doing something we’re not supposed to be doing.
D.L. Moody was fond of saying, “Character is what you are in the dark.” All right, when you don’t think anybody’s looking, you turn the lights out and you assume that God can’t see. It’s not like God’s in heaven going, “They turned the lights out. I wonder what they’re doing down there. I wish I could see that. From the noises, it is concerning, but perhaps—,” right?
It’s sacred. It’s hidden. You don’t want people to know you visited this website, you went to this place, you’re engaged in this relationship, you’re participating in these activities. You’re trying to keep it all in the darkness, and what he says is, “No, don’t do that. “Expose those things. Talk about those things. Confess those things. Get help for those things.”
And number six, he says do not get drunk. Do not get drunk. It’s not a sin to have a drink—if you’re over twenty-one, you don’t cause others to stumble. Because some of you grew up in religious traditions where they did really weird things to the Bible. They’d go to “Jesus turns water into wine.” They’d be like, “It’s grape juice.” No, it’s not. It’s not. Have you been drinking? Who would interpret it like that, right? “Do not get”—otherwise Ephesians would be saying, “Do not get drunk on grape juice,” and you’re like, “Shouldn’t be hard to stay sober on grape juice.” I think it would take a lot of grape juice. I think my odds of drowning would exceed my odds of drunkenness were I to get drunk on grape juice.
All right, the Bible talks about wine. It talks about alcohol. It talks about beer in Proverbs. It’s not a sin. But it is a sin to disobey the law. It is a sin to cause others to stumble. And it is a sin to get drunk—to get drunk.
And yes, this would include other substances. I literally—I’ve had guys who are like, “It doesn’t say anything about tequila.” What kind of weird alcoholic Pharisee are you? You know, like, it means alcohol. It means being controlled by another substance. This would include prescription medications that you’re just using in an unhealthy way. This would include self-medicating with drugs, alcohol of various sorts and kinds.
The Bible says that we’re to be self-controlled and alert. You can’t do that if you’re drunk or you’re high. And I know we just passed the marijuana law, but God’s people shouldn’t be getting high. They shouldn’t be getting drunk. They shouldn’t be controlled by any substance. And in this scenario, he says, “Don’t get drunk. Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” If you want to be under the control of something, be under the control of the Holy Spirit. If you’re struggling with your problems, don’t turn to the bong, and don’t turn to the bottle; turn to the Holy Spirit. Don’t escape your problems, overcome them by the power of God. And that’s the big idea of what he’s unpacking. So, there’s your six “Do not!”s.
And then he has a “Do” list. Imitate God. Sort of a big request, right? Big request. This is sort of a definition of your life. Imitate God. How would God treat them? What would God say? What would God do? What would God give? How would God respond? How would God react? What would God think? What would God feel? All of life now becomes God-centered.
We live life, then, coram Deo, as the theologians say, “in the face of God.” “OK, God, who are you, and how can I imitate you?” And that’s worship—responding as God would respond, reflecting who God is.
Do “walk in love.” This is a habitual, ongoing lifestyle. You love people. This includes generosity and affection and service and investment in people.
“Walk as children of light.” This is being honest about your own sin, putting it all out in the light. All right, 1 John says, “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all of our unrighteousness.” Walking in the light means talking to God and other Christians about our sins and our struggles. “Here’s what’s going on, and here’s where I’m failing. And I don’t want to hide it all over in the darkness, and you can’t see who I am or where I’m at or what I do. I bring it out. I put it in the light. And I say, ‘Look, I need help. I need accountability. I need support.’ This is what’s going on, and I’m just going to put it out there in the light. I know it’s ugly. I know it’s hard to look at, but I’m here because I need Jesus and Jesus’ people.” That’s walking in the light.
Too oftentimes, I see people keep everything in darkness until their life falls apart, and then run into church and try and microwave relationships for help. If you’re here, we love you, praise God, but for everyone else, walk in the light before it’s a crisis. Allow others to know you and be in community with you through things like Redemption Groups and Community Groups. That’s where we walk in the light. One of the great functions of those groups is walking in the light. “Who are you? Who am I? “Where are you? Where am I? “How can I help you? How can you help me so that together we can imitate him?”
Number four, discern what pleases God. All of sudden, then, for the Christian, life is no longer, “What do I want?” The question is, What does he want? “Lord, what would please you? Should I do this or not do this? Should I say this or not say this? Should I give this or not give this? Lord, what would please you? What would please you?” That’s the goal.
That’s the question. So often, we don’t ask that question. In fact, we decide what we want, and then we pray, telling God to do that. “God, do this.” No, we need to first pray, “God, what do you want me to do?” And then we should obey. But discern what pleases the Lord.
And friends, that’s why we have the Word of God, so that we can know God and who he is, that we can know ourselves and who we are, and so that we can discern what pleases God. Most of the answers to most of your questions have already been answered, and they’re right here. And sometimes, Christians go searching for answers, and they should be searching the Scriptures because that’s where the answers lie.
Walk as wise, number five. The world is filled with folly. The juxtaposition in the book of Proverbs is between folly and wisdom. Some things are sinful. Others are just stupid; they’re just dumb. You can say, “Oh, it’s not a sin.” It’s not wise. That’s not a good use of your time. That’s not a good use of your energy. That’s not a good use of your money. That’s not a good investment of your life. It’s just not.
And I would put under this issue of wisdom the practical, daily, simple issues of life. When your hobbies overtake your life, when you don’t have time for God and his people and his Word because of your recreational activities, your online addiction, or your absolute obsession with social media, or you’re trying to become a guild leader, God forbid. At the end of the day, you may say, “It’s not a sin,” but it’s not wise. And sometimes the enemy of what pleases God is folly. It’s just foolish waste of time, foolish waste of energy, foolish waste of money.
And if you look at your life as a steward—“And I only have so many dollars and so many days. How will I invest them so that it would be what pleases God?”—it’ll help keep you from folly. This isn’t even the list. He’s got a whole ’nother half of the “Do” list.
Make the best use of time. How are you doing with your time? You and I only have a certain number of hours on the earth. We’re to make an investment, make a deposit for the kingdom of God and the well-being of others.
How is it going? I mean, today, the average high school student, by the time they graduate from high school, will have spent more time watching television than attending school. The average single guy, depending upon what survey you believe, spends between three and four hours a day playing video games. How much time is wasted through technology?
And some of you say, “Oh, technology is not always a waste of time.” No, it’s not, but oftentime it is. How much time is wasted surfing the Internet, social media, gossiping, stalking, video-game playing, chatting—just wasted time? I mean, in your pocket, you’ve got now, in the shape of a phone, a potential capacity to waste your entire life. He says, “Make good use of your time. Use your time wisely.”
And this contributes to this season of extended adolescence where, you know, men are pushing thirty, women are pushing their late twenties to marry, and oftentimes it’s because they have wasted time, not invested time. They’re not ready to be married because they have wasted so many years, and young men are particularly the worst. I hammer it all the time, but in this extended adolescence they refuse to grow up, and they refuse to take on responsibility. And the result is they are anatomically adult men but, in terms of responsibility, young boys. They’ve wasted the time. So he says, “Make the best use of time.” How’s your time?
Be filled with the Spirit. And the language here is beautiful. The Holy Spirit is the third member of the Trinity. He is a person and not a force. Jesus promised us that he would return and that he would send the Holy Spirit, and that he would convict us of sin. Jesus called the Holy Spirit “he,” not “it.” So, the Holy Spirit is a person. He’s the third member of the Trinity. He’s God. As he empowered the life of Jesus, he empowers the life of Jesus’ people. As he allowed and empowered and enabled Jesus to be obedient, so he does the same for us. And we can live our lives not filled with drunkenness but filled with the Spirit.
And some of you have been in sort of charismatic/Pentecostal churches where you’ve essentially been told that if you pray loud, and we all get together, and we have a big prayer meeting, and somebody brings a banner, and some gal finds a tambourine, and we make enough noise to wake the Holy Spirit up, and we yell, and we pray, and we praise, and we speak in tongues, and we dance around like an aerobics class on a karaoke night at a dive bar with cheap beers—if we just all go for it—he’ll show up.
Here’s the truth: the Holy Spirit’s already there, right? He’s already been poured out. He’s already with God’s people. He’s already in God’s people. And it’s not that we have to make him show up; it’s that we need to avail ourselves to his presence. The language here, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit,” is literally the imagery of sailing. Let’s say the wind is blowing, and there’s a boat that’s out on a lake. The boat doesn’t have any energy or movement or momentum unless it puts the sail up. And once the sail is up, the sail gets filled, and then the boat gets moved and compelled and propelled along with great force and power. That’s the language here.
See, when we’re walking in sin, when we’re walking in foolishness, we’re walking in rebellion, the Holy Spirit—he’s still blowing. Jesus said in John 4, “He’s like the wind.” He’s still blowing. But we’re not moving because our sail is down. We don’t want to hear what he has to say. We don’t want to do what he tells us to do. We don’t want to go where he’s pushing us to be. You see that? So, being filled with the Holy Spirit is not like you’re just a great sail and he just hasn’t shown up. He’s already there, and if you’re not moving, it’s because you’ve taken your proverbial sail down.
So, when he says, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit,” he’s saying, “Repent of your sin. Repent of your folly. Repent of your rebellion. Repent of your hard heart and your stiff neck because the Holy Spirit wants to fill you, and he wants to change you, and he wants to inform you and enlighten you, and he wants to move you, and he wants to work through you, and he’s already there, and he’s waiting on you.” He’s already waiting on you. It’s not that the Holy Spirit is unwilling; it’s sometimes that we are. That’s the issue.
He goes on to say to sing in passionate worship to God, to sing in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, and to make music that we get together and we sing as God’s people. Those who are filled with the Spirit—they sing. This is why charismatic and Pentecostal churches, quite frankly, tend to outsing Reformed, Presbyterian and Baptist churches. They just do. Churches that believe in the Holy Spirit tend to sing a lot louder, and their band, frankly, tends to be better. I’m just delivering the mail; I don’t write it. I’m just telling you how it is.
If you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, you want to sing. You know why? God the Holy Spirit the third member of the Trinity, for eternity past, has been in union and communion with the Father and the Son. They have been mutually glorifying and edifying one another forever in worshipful praise. And when the Holy Spirit indwells God’s people, he inspires us to join in the praise of the Father and the Son.
You can’t be filled with the Holy Spirit and not sing. You can grieve, quench, resist the Holy Spirit. When the sermon’s done, don’t leave, all right? It’s your turn to sing. It’s your time to sing. Sing psalms, hymns, spiritual songs. Make a joyful noise, right? He says, “Do that.” Some of you say, “Well, what will other people think of me?” Well, that’s not the question. We worship God. We’re wondering what he’s thinking if we’re not singing.
And I’ll tell you what, people cheer their gods in other churches, like stadiums. Their god is sport, and they show up and cheer. Venues become churches, and fans show up to cheer for their band and sing along.
See, worship is happening everywhere. It certainly should be happening among God’s people. They’re singing for their team. They’re singing for their band. You may as well sing for the God who conquered sin and death.
He says, “Give thanks.” So, this is an attitude of gratitude where you’re always wondering, “What could I be thankful for today?” And this not just sort of a naivety and a glibness, but it is, “God is good, and I need to be seeking and searching out the goodness of God in my life, and then stopping to thank him for the grace that he provides through the course of my day.”
And then lastly, it says to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. And this means, as you’re part of the church family, if somebody loves Jesus and speaks into your life, you’re at least willing to hear them. It doesn’t mean you immediately agree with them, but you’re willing to hear them, and if they’re right, you’re willing to repent, to apologize, to learn, to make a course correction. Because at the end of the day, to be filled with the Spirit is to be submissive to the truth.
ADOPTED BY GOD THE FATHER
Now, here’s the question: how are we going to do this, right? That’s a list of six “Do not”s and ten “Do”s. How many of you stopped taking notes because the list got too long? You’re like, “I don’t—look, that’s a lot.” It’s a lot, right? Try the Old Testament. The first five books, more than six hundred rules, laws. The Bible is filled with these. How many of you would like to go home now, starting in Genesis, read to Revelation, and just make two lists, “Do not do this” and “Do do that”? You will die before you finish the list, maybe by killing yourself, right? It’s a lot.
So, usually this is where the preacher goes moralistic. “Don’t do this. Do that.” And you can see it that way and not even be a Christian. Heck, you can be an atheist and just give people a list of “Do not”s and give them another list of “Do”s. So, the question is, how? How do we not do the bad things and do do the good things? Have I built your anticipation? Are you excited? “Oh Mark, please tell me! What is the answer to this question?”
Well, I’ll tell you anyways. All right, here it is: “Adopted by God the Father.” You know how you’re going to do what’s right and not do what’s wrong? Not by getting focused on yourself but getting to know your Dad.
He says in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.” That sounds good, right? “Beloved children.” Christians are beloved children of God. And he says at the end, in Ephesians 5:20, that God is our Father.
So, here’s our identity; if you’re a Christian, God’s our Father, and we are beloved children. He already told us in Ephesians 1:5, at the beginning of the book, that we’d been adopted. We’d been adopted.
You ever seen a kid who’s adopted? It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it? A kid doesn’t have a dad, and they get a dad. It changes that kid’s whole life. Everything changes because of who their new dad is. Well, God’s our Father, and this is a unique concept. Eight times in Ephesians, he talks about God as our Father, explicitly and overtly. This is how the Lord Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father who art in heaven.”
If you’re a Christian, your relationship with God is a relationship with God as Father. And this would have been revolutionary language in Paul’s day. I’ll give you a bit of historical background here.
In Paul’s day, they’re part of the Roman Empire. Those kids who were born, particularly into poor families, were oftentimes discarded. Infant mortality rates were very high. Forty percent of children died by their fifth birthday. Kids died young. They tended not to name the child until it was at least a week old because so many children died in the first week.
Of those who did live, particularly among poor families, if it was a girl, they would literally throw her out. They would abandon her in the wilderness. They would put her on the garbage pile. They’d throw her on the dung heap. If the family was poor, or let’s say a boy was born with any kind of disability, same thing—abandoned, drowned, left on the garbage pile, left on the dung heap. These kids had no rights.
What would happen, then, is people would come along, and they would take the girls. Can you imagine what they’d do to the girls? Prostitution, slavery, horrific abuse. Can you imagine if we just put newborn children out with the trash and anybody who was driving by could pick them up and do whatever they wanted to them? That was the Roman Empire. The boys were turned into slaves, and they were also fighting in the gladiator games, being murdered as sport for public consumption.
It’s why when the Lord Jesus shows up and he welcomes children around him, some of the disciples—“Hey, get those kids out of there.” Jesus says, “No, no, no, no, no. No, I love kids. I welcome kids. In fact, you know, God’s our Father and we’re his kids.” Jesus changed the way the world sees children. Jesus changed the way the world sees God. Jesus shows us the father heart of God and he reveals to us that we can be adopted into God’s family.
And what started happening—it was interesting—with all of these abandoned, discarded, abused children, when Christianity started to grow in the early Roman Empire, they started adopting these kids. So, the Christians literally would go out, and, “Oh, there a baby on the trash. Take them home.” “Here’s another baby on the trash. Take them home.” “Oh, baby abandoned in the wilderness. Going to take them home.” “Oh, you were going to take your baby out and tie a millstone around its neck and drown it in the river? Why don’t you give that baby to me?” And Christians started adopting all the kids. Why, why?
Because your theology informs your activity. Because Jesus Christ was adopted. God came as Jesus Christ, and he didn’t have an earthly father. And he was adopted by an earthly father, a guy named Joseph. Well, if Jesus is adopted, then adoption is good. Not only was Jesus adopted, through Jesus, we’re adopted. And if God’s our Father, and through Jesus we’re adopted into God’s family, then we should be adopting children into our family. We should be mothers and fathers to them and telling them that we adopted them because the Father in heaven has adopted us. It’s why Christians have always loved adoption, amen?
I can’t tell you how many people are adopting kids—it’s great, praise God—out of foster care, overseas adoptions, whatever the circumstances might be. In our family, on both sides, each of my kids has got a—they’ve got a cousin on each side, a girl who’s been adopted by a member of our extended family.
God’s heart is a father’s heart. God’s heart is an adoptive heart. I want you to see salvation as adoption. Who makes the decision, the child or the father, in an adoption? Who makes the decision? The father. It’s a legal transaction. A kid can’t just go to a courthouse, ask for the paperwork, fill it out, and sign it, and then they’re adopted. The adoption is at the father’s discretion. The father decides who he will adopt. It’s a legal transaction.
So it is with us. God’s a father who adopts his kids. God’s a Father who adopts his kids. If you’re a Christian, he picked you. He picked you to be his son or daughter. He adopted you into his family. You now bear the family name of “Christian.” You now receive all the inheritance rights of the Father, and that includes the totality of the kingdom of God.
So, the first question is, you know, why does God do this? Because this is simply what he’s like. He’s this great. He’s this glorious. He’s this grand. He’s this good. And I want to stress this. And I’ve hit this a few times in Ephesians, but I just feel compelled to continually revisit this theme, that God is a father and Christians are adopted into his family.
Because, the father wound is deep. It’s deep. For the first time in the nation’s history, 40% of kids go to bed without a father tonight. For the first time in the nation’s history, the majority of children born to women thirty and younger—their children are born out of wedlock.
What that means is, now, the majority of children growing up have no father. The majority of children have no father, and many who do have a bad dad, a violent dad, an abusive dad, an unloving dad, a dad who will not protect and will not provide. And I think, as much as anything, it articulates, it explains, it encapsulates the brokenness that we see in our culture. It’s the result of a bunch of bad dads.
The result is, today, that people who are in their teens and twenties—they’re lost. They don’t know where they come from, why they’re here, where they’re going, or what they’re doing. It means, in our church, a lot of what we would call discipleship is really parenting. Here’s how you get a job. Here’s how you balance a checkbook. Here’s how you date and court. Here’s how you get married. Here’s how you govern your sexuality. Here’s how you raise a kid. Today, discipleship is really parenting. And in the absence of intact families and homes, the church becomes the family of God that is there to help make up the difference.
So, as we read this list from our Heavenly Father of “Do not do this” and “Do do that,” all of that is to be learned in community with the family. And one of the things that is discouraging—it’s distressing, it’s devastating—is that the average person views God like their earthly father treated them.
Christian Smith, a noted sociologist, did the biggest study of teenagers and twenty-somethings, spiritually speaking, in the history of the United States of America. He’s written two books. And his basic summary is that the average young adult believes in something called moralistic, therapeutic deism. Big words. Deism—God lives far away. He’s not really involved in our life. Moralistic—he wants us to be good people. Therapeutic—so we should take whatever we could find in psychology and sociology, and anthropology and theology and spirituality and just grab some tricks and some tips so that we can live a better, more satisfying, happy life. That view of God is like their earthly father: he left, he doesn’t know me, he’s not here to help me, he hopes I do my best, and maybe once in awhile he sends a check.
The view of God in the Bible is absolutely different than the view of God in culture. In the Bible, God is Father. I need you to know that. I need you to believe that. I need you to trust that. And for some of you, this is a truth that’s gonna take awhile to penetrate your hardness of heart. There’s one guy that I have told him this to his face fairly often for, I think it is now, coming up on six years. And after I preach this kind of sermon, almost every time over the years, he’s come up to me and said, “I still struggle to believe that God is my Father.” He is. He is, and once you understand that identity, it changes your activity. So, the key to “Don’t do this” and “Do do that” is to ask, “Who’s my Father? If that’s my Father, then I don’t want to behave this way, and I do want to behave that way.”
And Paul summarizes it by saying, “Be imitators of God as dearly loved children of God.” That’s his thesis statement. Little kids who have a dad who absolutely adores them want to be like their dad, right? Little boys who have a dad that absolutely loves them want to be like their dad. And little girls who have a dad that absolutely loves them want to grow up and marry somebody who’s like their dad, amen? That’s what children do. When children have a father who loves them, they want to be like him.
So the change in activity and behavior really starts with a change in identity. It’s a father issue. You know why I don’t want to do that and I do want to do that? Because my dad loves me, and I want to be like my dad. And if my dad should tell me no, it must be because it’s a bad thing, because I know that my dad is a good man.
So, some of you come to the Bible and you’re not sure that God is a good, loving, committed Father. When he says no, you’re like, I want to argue, I want to debate, I want to disagree. You’re like a rebellious, foolish teenager. If you know that your Father loves you and that he’s good and he tells the truth and that he’s there to protect you and he’s always seeking you’re good—if your Dad comes along and says, “Please don’t do that,” you say, “OK. I don’t fully understand, Dad, but I do trust you, and I know that you’re always seeking my good, so I’m going to live by faith and trust that. And as I walk in that, then eventually it’ll become sight, and I’ll see what you’re talking about.” As dearly loved children of God, imitate your Dad. So, number one, you’re adopted by God the Father.
ADOPTED WITH A NEW IDENTITY
Number two, we’ve already alluded to it, but you’re adopted with a new identity. Do you know what happens to a kid who gets adopted? Their whole identity changes. First thing that changes is what? Their legal status, their last name. Their identity literally, completely changes. This is not your name; this is your name. This is not the person or the organization that is legally responsible for you; these people are. Their identity changes. When you are adopted into the family of God by God the Father, your identity changes. That’s why we bear the family name, Christian. And he, here, in this section of Ephesians 5, he juxtaposes our identity before God the Father adopts us and then after God the Father adopts us.
So, before God the Father adopts us, Ephesians 5:6 says, “The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” Before you’re adopted by God the Father, as a non-Christian, your identity is “Sons of disobedience under the wrath of God.” Once God the Father adopts you into his family through Jesus—Ephesians 5:8—your new identity is what? “Children of light.” “Dearly loved children,” he says as well. Do you understand that?
See, before you were a Christian, God was angry, and now that you’re a Christian, he’s not. Before you were a Christian, there was punishment awaiting you. Now that you’re a Christian, there’s not. The punishment already went to Jesus; the wrath already went to Jesus. Your big Brother took care of everything, friend. Everything’s changed. Everything’s changed.
It’s interesting, when kids are adopted, one of the things that the counselors and the caseworkers will say is—to the family that’s adopting the child—“You know, sometimes adopted children struggle with attachment issues. Sometimes they will have been used or abused or neglected or abandoned to the degree that the child—yeah, the parents love them, the new family loves them, but they’re not sure that it’s going to endure, and so there’s this self-preservation, self-protection where the kid isn’t very affectionate, they’re not very attached to their family, they stay very aloof.” Some Christians are like that, too.
See, I’ve seen some children when they’re adopted, they don’t have any attachment issues at all. They just run to their dad, jump in his arms, kiss him, hug him, “Dad!” There’s just, like, no attachment issues there. Other kids, they’re not like that. “My dad’s nice today, but maybe he’ll be mean tomorrow. My dad loves me today, but maybe he’ll disown me tomorrow. My dad’s for me today, but maybe he’ll be against me tomorrow. I’m not sure I can trust this family.” As it is with those who are adopted physically, so it is with those who are adopted spiritually.
Some of you know that God is your Father, and you’ve just ran. “Yea, I’ve got a Dad finally!” The psalmist says he’s a father to the fatherless. Some of you are still uncertain, unsure, suspicious.
Here’s what he says: “You’re now children of the light.” That means that God’s grace is shining upon you. God’s affection is always set before you. God can’t love you any more. He won’t love you any less. And once he’s signed the adoption papers by sealing you with the Holy Spirit, he will never leave you nor forsake you. He will never disown you. You are his child forever. Your Dad loves you. Your Dad loves you. It changes your identity, right?
So as you read the Bible, friend, and you read negative things about the wrath of God and hell and judgment, I want you to remember, “Oh, that’s my old identity.” When you read about love and grace and mercy and affection and God being a Father, I want you to say, “Oh, and that’s my new identity.”
And he compares these two so that you and I would know what we’re saved from and who we’re saved by, so that we would know how much the Father loves us and what a great thing he’s done for us. I want you to approach God with a childlike faith, not a childish faith but a childlike faith. “I have a good Dad. I can trust him. He loves me.” We’re adopted with a new identity.
ADOPTED INTO A FAMILY BY JESUS, OUR BIG BROTHER
We’re also adopted into a new family by Jesus, our big Brother. Ephesians 5:2, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us”—there’s the cross—“a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” The “us” and the “us”—that’s the church. That’s the children of God. That’s not just me individually, but that’s us collectively. And what he’s saying is that we’re brought into the family through Jesus, our big Brother.
And to use this familial language, the Bible speaks of Jesus elsewhere as our big Brother. I’ll give you a couple of examples. In Hebrews 2:17, it says that Jesus had to be made like his brothers. See, we’re the rebellious kids. It’s not that the Father has orphaned us, but through sin, we’ve run away from home. We’ve rebelled against our Father. We’ve all just gone our own way. And so Jesus, the second member of the Trinity, comes to human history and he’s made like his brothers. He takes upon himself human flesh. He walks upon the earth. He suffers temptation, though he says no to the temptation. And he’s on a rescue mission to go out and get all the rebellious and wayward children that the Father wants to adopt into the family.
So Hebrews 2:17 says that he had to be made like his brothers. Hebrews 2:11 says that Jesus calls us his brothers if we are Christians. Another place it says this, as well, is Romans 8:29, where it talks about salvation, that Jesus is the firstborn among many brothers.
The firstborn in that day was the one who would be the head of the household. It’s a patriarchal society. It’s traced through the male line. That’s why, in the Bible, the genealogies say, “So-and-So had this son and these sons, and then they had this son and these sons,” and it tells us the family history through the male line. And it always tells us, or generally so, who the firstborn was, because the firstborn was the patriarch of the next generation, and all of the inheritance rights of the family came to the firstborn. And the oldest son, then, would oversee all the family’s property, estates, wealth, the family business. If Dad died, he would care for Mom and the sisters, and he would be the one responsible for the oversight and well-being of the father, and that he would then assume the responsibilities as head of extended household.
And Jesus is our first-born big Brother. Our big Brother died so that we could be adopted into the family of God. And he rose, conquering sin and death, and he reconciles all of the sons and daughters back to their loving Father. And whatever inheritance we receive—the Holy Spirit, eternal life, forgiveness of sin, the kingdom of God—all of those things are the possession of Jesus, the firstborn, and he shares them with the family of God. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s amazing.
And this has been God’s heart, friends, since the beginning. One of the great recurring themes of the Old Testament is—God keeps saying, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” The Father’s been making a family since Genesis 3, when our first parents turned their back on him. And he came looking for them. This Father is committed to making a family. And so when he’s talking about the “us,” he’s talking about the church.
A couple of things I want to say on that. The church family is where you meet your brothers and sisters. You know why you need to be involved in church? Because you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus exclusively, just like a child does not get adopted into a family and have a personal relationship with the father. They also have a relationship that involves the rest of the family. You need to get to know Mom and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins, right?
See, on Christmas Eve we have one side of the family over; Christmas Day, we have the other side of the family over. Both include, as I told you, a lovely, adopted girl. They’re part of our family. For Christmas, they can’t say, “I do not participate in the family activities. I have a personal relationship and not a—” “No, hey man, you’re part of the family now.” Church is family. Church is family.
Some of you say, “Big family.” Oh yes, I know. I know. We are a big family, but we’re still a family. That’s why, in addition to big meetings on Sunday we have little meetings during the week called Community Groups, where people eat meals together and do life together, because that’s what families do. Families break bread around a table, and families one love another and serve one another and drive one another crazy.
So if you’ve shown up and you’re like, “I went to a Community Group and those people are so annoying,” welcome to the family. They were thinking the same thing when you showed up, right? Family is where people drive each other nuts, right? Who drives you nuts more than your family? Nobody. That’s what family’s for. Family’s for your sanctification. So, if your family is driving you nuts, they’re doing their job, helping you grow to become more patient, loving, merciful, forgiving, to buy less bullets and to offer more prayers. That’s why they’re there, so you can grow in these things.
Don’t walk into church with this idealistic, judgmental view. What kind? You know, “You are here to meet my needs.” No, welcome to the family. One of the things that happens when you show up in a family is you quickly learn everybody’s got a chore, right? How many of you came from a big family? Everybody’s got to pitch in and help out, right? I was the oldest of five kids. We have five kids now. Everybody’s got a chore. Everybody needs to be helping out, looking out for others. Those of you who are older, older in faith, you’re like big brothers, big sisters. Those of you who are newer Christians and new to the faith are like little brothers, little sisters. You know what the big brothers, the big sisters do? They look after the little brothers, the little sisters. That’s what happens.
The Bible uses this language: “Brothers and sisters.” And in this day, it may have actually been illegal. And I’ve told you before, but what would happen was that the inheritance rights were passed through the family, and you were not allowed to say that someone was your brother or sister unless they were a biological relative because then it would legally confuse the estate.
But when people met God the Father and they were adopted into the family by Jesus, the big Brother, everything was so radically altered, they just decided, “Our spiritual family is more important than “our physical family. Our family of new birth exceeds our family of birth. And who cares if it messes up the estate? I love her like a sister, and he treats me like a brother.”
For those of you who get frustrated with the church, hang in there, because once a family works through their hard times, that tends to be where they really know how to love one another. If you’re one of those people who pulls into the church, has a little conflict and pulls out, the reason it doesn’t feel like family is because you keep quitting. I know I’ve driven my family nuts. It’s my spiritual gift. But they have endured with me, and as a result, we love each other. And that’s what families do: they hang in there together.
ADOPTED TO WORSHIP
And lastly, we are adopted to worship. To worship. He says it this way, Ephesians 5:18–21, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” Do you know where the happiest, loudest places tend to be? Where there’s alcohol. You show up at a bar. It’s loud. It’s packed. Everybody’s excited. There’s a lot of activity, a lot of energy. And usually we include music, right? So there’s a band or music playing or, tragically, karaoke, right? And you put those two together—people drunk, with debauchery and a microphone—at that point, we are so far from the glory of God, it’s unfathomable.
But isn’t it interesting that when unbelievers gather together, they do so in a common place, like a family, with people they know and alcohol and music so they can be filled with something and sing to something. See, deep down, everybody wants to be a Christian. God’s made us in his image and likeness. God’s made us to gather together. God’s made us to be filled with someone, not something. And God has made us to sing. And if it’s not Jesus, it becomes someone or something else. And if it’s not the church, it becomes somewhere else.
“Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, and addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing.” Yes, you Calvinists, singing! Yes, you Baptists, singing! Yes, you indie rockers, singing! I know you don’t sing at an indie rocker show because it’s not cool. You’re not cool—you’re a Christian.
“Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” The Holy Spirit lives in your heart. The Bible speaks of your heart more than nine hundred times. It’s the seat, sum, center of who you are. In your heart, there’s love for Jesus. In your heart, there’s joy for Jesus. In your heart, there’s singing to Jesus.
“Giving thanks always for everything.” You know why? Even if life is hard, God’s still your Father. The only thing worse than a hard season is a hard season without a Father who cares. “Always giving thanks to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for worship.” He’s talking about worship. Worship is out in action, and it’s up in adoration. That’s worship. Out in action is loving one another, serving one another, caring for one another, enduring with one another. That’s the worship that’s out. That’s being imitators of God. “The Father loves, so I love. The Father gives, so I give. The Father serves, so I serve. The Father cares, so I care.” So, part of our worship is out; it’s action.
But it’s also up; it’s adoration—singing, making music, giving thanks for God the Father, enjoying Jesus Christ. Please don’t leave when the sermon is done because worship is just beginning. And when we sing, it glorifies God, it’s good for us, but it also encourages the family.
That’s what he says, “Addressing one another.” You know what happens when an eighteen-year-old guy walks in and sees some guy who’s six foot four, two-hundred-forty pounds, with a beard, wearing boots, looks like he could take down a tree with no axe—when he looks at that guy and sees that guy raising his hand in worship to Jesus? The eighteen-year-old kid’s learning something, and that is men worship Jesus. Men worship Jesus. When kids walk in and they see their mom and dad worshipping Jesus, they realize, “I want to grow up and be a man or a woman. I want to marry a woman, I want to marry a man who worships Jesus, because that’s what my mom and dad are like.”
When a woman who is divorced and, through a difficult season, is singing and raising her hands and crying out to Jesus, and she brings her divorced friend who’s in the same state, and that woman sees her enjoying God as her Father and thanking Jesus, her big Brother, it teaches her that that’s where she’s to go emotionally on her dark days. Yes, we do worship God.
But when we worship God, we encourage one another. One of the most joyful things for me to do is to see God’s people singing and celebrating. One of the things that is most joyful for me, quite frankly, is when I see a man holding his wife’s hand and carrying their baby as they come up for Communion. When we worship, it’s glorious to God, it’s good for us, it encourages the family, amen? That’s why we get together. We have to get together and see one another and encourage one another and sing together.
So, we’re gonna do that in just a moment. My question to you is, have you been adopted into the family of God? Is God your Father? Is Jesus your big Brother? Have you turned from sin and trusted in him or are you still “sons of disobedience,” and, as Ephesians 2 says, “children of wrath”? This is where you give your life to Jesus, you get connected to God the Father through God the Son, and you get connected to the church family, get to know your brothers and sisters.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.