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Ephesians 5:1-21; Be Imitators of God, Part 2

by Karl Kemp  
9/04/2014 / Bible Studies

Here in Part 2 we continue with the discussion under Eph. 5:5, which includes the powerful warning aimed at Christians that "no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God."

I'll quote a paragraph from what Clinton E. Arnold says under Eph. 5:4c and 5:5 ("Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament" [Zondervan, 2010], page 325). I just purchased this commentary, and I haven't had the opportunity to spend much time reading it, but it was written by an evangelical scholar, and I believe it is a quality commentary, but Arnold believes that born-again Christians cannot lose their salvation, and it effects his interpretation of this verse. The reason I want to quote this paragraph is because it illustrates a serious problem that has been concerning me for a long time: Many (but probably not the majority of) Christians who believe the doctrine of eternal security often teach the doctrine in a way that explains away the warnings in the New Testament, very much including the warnings that Christians must repent with a high priority where repentance is required. The warnings, having been explained away, no longer function as the warnings that God intended, the warnings that must be taken seriously if we want to understand the balanced truth of what the New Testament teaches. This problem is all the more serious since the level of righteousness and holiness is at a dangerously low level in much of Christianity in our day, not to mention the absence of a healthy fear of God that is required under both the old and new covenants.

Right in the middle of one of the more powerful warnings (Eph. 5:1-7) of a large number of such warnings in the New Testament that Christians must make victory over sin a top priority, where the apostle Paul even warns Christians that they must not be deceived, because if they live as "sons of disobedience" they will inherit the wrath of God instead of the kingdom of God, Arnold tells us, for one thing, that "this clause (4:5b [5:5b, referring to the words at the end of Eph. 5:5 about not having an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God]) does not, then, function as a warning to believers that they should be aware of their actions lest they forfeit their inheritance. It has the exact opposite force. Paul wants them to be assured that they are heirs of the eternal kingdom." (I'll include Arnold's entire paragraph in the paragraph after the next one.)

The apostle Paul (along with the other writers of the New Testament) did not want his readers who were living in sin and/or believing things that do not line up with God's Word (especially the gospel) to feel secure or "to be assured that they are heirs of the eternal kingdom." He wanted them to repent with a top priority! The New Testament is packed with passages that prove my last sentence. For one thing, see my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?" that is on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching). I made it a priority to try to present the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on that topic in that paper. We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches! Many Christians put all the emphasis on a set of verses that fit their viewpoint and then spend a lot of time and energy minimizing or trying to explain away all the verses that don't fit their viewpoint. This happens to one degree, or another, on essentially all of the topics where Christians disagree. Many of us Christian ministers need to humble ourselves before God and seek Him for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. We desperately need to hold, and teach, the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches!

"Paul claims that those whose lives are characterized by these vices will not have a share in the kingdom. [Arnold agrees with this statement, and he exhorts Christians to live right, but he doesn't believe Christians can lose their salvation.] Paul has already made it clear, however, that believers will have an inheritance with God because they have been sealed by the Spirit (1:13). He, in fact, prays that they will become increasingly aware of their identity as heirs (1:18). This clause (4:5:b [5:5b]) does not then function as a warning to believers that they should beware of their actions lest they forfeit their inheritance. It has the exact opposite force. Paul wants them to be assured that they are heirs of the eternal kingdom. Because of that they should now live like kingdom people and serve their loving and merciful God with a heart full of gratitude."

The apostle Paul wanted every Christian to make it top priority to believe and to live in agreement with the Word of God on a continuous basis (which includes repenting where repenting is required), by grace through faith, and "to be assured that they are heirs of the eternal kingdom." He did not teach that there was no way that born-again Christians could lose their salvation. He (along with the other writers of the New Testament) warned his Christian readers that they could lose their salvation. See my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?" For one thing, believers can become unbelievers!

Six paragraphs later (still under Eph. 5:4c and 5:5) Arnold qualifies what I quoted above to some extent (for which I'm thankful), but not nearly enough in my opinion: "...this passage is not a warning to believers [I totally disagree with this statement] but a reaffirmation of their new identity as a basis for the exhortation to godly living. [I agree that the apostle Paul often exhorted his readers to live righteous and holy lives in the truth of God, by grace through faith, on the basis of what God has done for them in Christ.] ... ...there is a secondary implication to the passage, as O'Brien ["Ephesians" (Eerdmans, 1999), page 363] rightly observes, 'Those who have given themselves over to immorality, impurity and greed, even if they call themselves Christian, show that they are excluded from eternal life.' "

Most evangelical Christians who believe that it is impossible for born-again Christians to lose their salvation will acknowledge that if a person has "given themselves over to immorality, impurity and greed" and are characterized by sin will not inherit eternal life, because (they say) their being characterized by sin now demonstrates that they never became born-again Christians. Also, the words "being characterized by sin" is a very subjective measurement. By some Christians' definitions you would have to have a lot of sin to "be characterized by sin."

Charles Stanley goes further (even though he devotes a lot of his teaching to exhorting Christians to live as Christians are called to live); he teaches (in his book "Eternal Security" [Thomas Nelson, 1990]) that once a person has accepted Christ and forgiveness and salvation through Him by an act of faith, there is no way that person could lose their salvation. He says that even if that person has abandoned the faith and is characterized by sin they still are saved. (I have a lot of respect for Charles Stanley and his ministry, but I strongly disagree with him on this topic. I was shocked when I read this book. I am confident that he is trying to help people who have no assurance of salvation, but I believe this teaching substantially hurts the Body of Christ.)

I'll include a few brief excerpts from Stanley's book, which is still being sold at, for one place: "If abandoning the faith or falling into sin [Stanley doesn't limit the type of sin or duration of the sin, including totally abandoning the faith without repentance] short-circuits salvation, I have the ability to demonstrate unconditional love to a greater extent than God. If there is a condition - even one - attached to God's willingness to maintain a relationship with His children, it is not unconditional. ..." (page 5). "... We are declared 'not guilty.' That's it! And yet that is what some argue we can lose. But how! How can I lose Christ's payment for my sin? Can God declare me 'guilty' after He has already declared me 'not guilty' " (page 28)? "The Bible clearly teaches that God's love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand" (page 72). "Faith is simply the way we say yes to God's free gift of eternal life. ... Consequently, God does not require a constant attitude of faith in order to be saved - only an act of faith" (page 77). "Forgiveness or salvation is applied at the moment of faith. It is not the same thing as faith. And its permanence is not contingent upon the permanence of one's faith" (page 78). "You and I are not saved because we have enduring faith. We are saved because at a moment in time we expressed faith in our enduring Lord. " (page 78). It is obvious if you don't have to continue in faith to be saved, there is no limit to how much you could be characterized by sin and still be saved. Do you think Christians who believe what Stanley says in the excerpts could possible take the warnings in the New Testament seriously? (Now I'll start to quote Eph. 5:6.)]] (6) Let no one deceive you with empty words [[That is, with empty words like the following: God doesn't care all that much what you believe, or how you are living, as long as you asked Christ into your heart and call yourself a Christian. He understands your sin and He certainly could not fail to take you into His heavenly kingdom. You don't have to be too concerned with finding out what the Bible says, or with repentance, or holiness. Many Christians are even telling us we don't even have to repent if we sin. However, the apostle Paul (in these verses and many other places, along with many other writers in the New Testament) says something quite different.]], for because of these things [that is, because of living in sin/being "sons of disobedience"] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. [[(See under verse 5.) There are many in our day who put all the emphasis on forgiveness and right standing with God, through believing in the sacrificial death of Christ Jesus and His resurrection, but who insist that repentance and obedience (a righteous lifestyle) are not required for salvation. However, the apostle Paul (and the other writers of the New Testament) consistently insisted that we are called, enabled, and required to live in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God as "sons of obedience" through the saving, sanctifying grace of God in Christ. And if we should sin, we must be quick to sincerely repent. We must make these things a top priority. Those who are "sons of disobedience" (which is comparable with being characterized by sin) will not inherit God's heavenly kingdom that is filled with His glory.

The "obedience" of the Lord Jesus Christ (with the emphasis on His all-important atoning death) was designed to result in the "obedience/righteousness" of Christians. See Rom. 5:19, for example. Romans chapter 5 is discussed in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ" and in my recently published e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin." Both books are available at

Paul didn't teach here (or anywhere else) that if a sincere Christian slips into sin he immediately loses his salvation or has become a "son of disobedience" (as a person characterized by disobedience), but he certainly required genuine repentance and he required each Christian to make it top priority (by grace through faith) to walk in a state of righteousness and holiness with the victory over all sin. As far as God is concerned, any sin (if it really is sin) is too much sin. (Sin is rebellion against God and His will.) The gospel that the apostle revealed included the good news that God's saving, sanctifying grace is sufficient. God wants to sanctify/transform us, not to condemn us.]] (7) Therefore do not be partakers [Greek "summetoxoi"] with them [[I prefer a translation like "sharers," or "fellow sharers," or "partners" (NIV), instead of "partakers." The apostle warns His Christian readers that they must not be sharers with them (with the "sons of disobedience") by living as "sons of disobedience." And, significantly, it is to be understood that if you share with them in living as "sons of disobedience," you will also share/partake with them in the wrath of God. Although there is some preliminary wrath of God against those rebelling against Him during this age, the apostle is speaking, at least for the most part, of God's wrath that will come with His day of judgment.

The only other place the Greek noun "summetoxoi" is used in the New Testament is Eph. 3:6, where Paul spoke of the Gentiles being "fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers ["fellow partakers" was translated from "summetoxoi"; the NIV has "sharers together"] of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." The apostle Paul was speaking of a salvation that the Gentiles were participating in during this age, but most of the glory of that salvation is reserved for the future (the near future I believe).

The only way we can avoid being partakers of "the wrath of God [that] comes on the "sons of disobedience" is for us to be faithful to God, His Son, and the new covenant and to live as "sons of obedience" by the grace of God in Christ (the grace that includes the work of the Righteous, Holy Spirit of God who dwells in all born-again Christians). Yes, we will be forgiven for any sins we commit after we become born-again Christians if we sincerely repent, but we must make it top priority to live in the truth, righteousness, holiness, and love of God. This is the foundation and heartbeat of Christianity. God paid an infinite price to give us the victory over sin! For one thing, He hates sin! (We will go on to Eph. 5:8 after completing the following section that will help us understand Eph. 5: 3-7.)]]

COLOSSIANS 3:1-11 HAS MUCH IN COMMON WITH EPHESIANS 4:17-5:21. I'll quote COLOSSIANS 3:5-9, verses that are especially relevant for Eph. 5:3-7 (Colossians 1:15-3:17 are discussed verse-by-verse in a paper on my internet site): "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry [with these last five words, compare Eph. 5:3]. [[(This double bracket dealing with Col. 3:5-9 goes on for twenty-five paragraphs. All of this information relates to the interpretation of Eph. 5:1-21, especially 5:3-7.) In the margin the NASB has, "Lit(erally) Put to death the members which are upon the earth." The NIV has, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry." I believe the translation "put to death" is better. Paul is exhorting his Christian readers (including us) to make sure that they are living as those who have truly died to sin, to the old man/the flesh, and to Satan and his kingdom. Anything that remains of sin must be put to death now with top priority (cf., e.g., Col. 3:6-9; Rom. 6:6, 12-14; 8:12-14; Gal. 5:24; Eph. 4:22-32; James 1:21-23; and 1 Pet. 2:1).

Paul was undoubtedly making some reference to the members of our physical bodies with his use of the word "members" here in Col. 3:5 (as with his use of the word "body" in Rom. 6:6; 7:24; and 8:13), but it was a rather loose reference (as it was in the verses just cited from Romans; it is clear that the apostle was not asking his readers to put to death their physical bodies or members of their physical bodies): Sometimes the apostle used the word "body" in the same non-literal sense that he often used the word "flesh," speaking of the "old man" (the NIV often translates "flesh" as "sinful nature"). ((I'll quote a paragraph from what J. B. Lightfoot says regarding "the members" here in verse 5, "Each person has a two fold moral personality. There is in him the 'old man,' and there is in him also 'the new' (verses 9, 10). The old man with all his members must be pitilessly slain [it cannot be annihilated during this age, but it must be kept from manifesting itself in sin, as we walk by the Holy Spirit through faith]. It is plain that [the members] here is used, like [man, speaking of the "old man"] in ver. 9, not physically, but morally. Our actual limbs may be either [of the earth] or [of heaven], according as they are made instruments for the world or for Christ: just as we...may identify ourselves with the [old man] or with the [new man] of our two fold potentiality. For this use of the physical, as a symbol of the moral of which it is the potential instrument, compare Matt. 5:29 ["If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you...."]" ("Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon" [Zondervan, 1974 reprint], page 211).)) We live on the earth in physical bodies, bodies that enable us to function in the world below (on the earth). The members of the body are very often involved when sins are committed (cf. Rom. 6:13). It must be understood, however, that sin originates in the heart, not in the physical body (see Mark 7:20-23).

To put to death the members which are on the earth (Col. 3:5) means the same thing as putting to death (or crucifying) the old man/the flesh and the works of the old man/the flesh. The NIV has, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature." The bottom line of what the apostle Paul says here, as he so often says it (cf. Rom. 6:1, 2, 11, for example), is that Christians are supposed to be dead to all sin (in the sense they stop sinning, not that they cannot be tempted to sin, and not that they cannot sin), and if they still are sinning in any way, they must make it top priority to stop all sin now (by grace through faith). Continuing in sin is not an option; see Col. 3:6.

I'M GOING TO INCLUDE A LENGTHY FOOTNOTE (that I have in the paper on my internet site that includes Col. 1:15-3:17, under Col. 3:6) THAT DEALS (to some significant extent) WITH THE "WRATH OF GOD": Many Christians in our day speak only of the "love" of God; they have very little (if any) conception of His "wrath." I'll quote several sentences from David E. Garland on this topic ("Colossians and Philemon" [Zondervan, 1998], page 216). "A survey of faith maturity in Christians [apparently not limited to evangelical Christians] discovered that most believe that God is forgiving (97%) and loving (96%), but far fewer believe that God is judging (37%) or punishes those who do wrong (19%). [Footnote: Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, "The Teaching Church" ... (...Abingdon, 1993), page 44.] These Christians probably doubt that a God of such inclusive love could judge with such inflexible wrath. ... The best-selling book 'Conversations With God,' by Neale Donald Walsch [G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1996], represents the current opinion on God's wrath. It portrays a chummy God who patronizes sin, since there is no objective right and wrong. According to Walsch, God smiles on all that we do and only asks that we do our best. Paul's mention of the 'wrath of God' presents an opportunity to help people recognize the reality of God's wrath and to disabuse them of common misunderstandings of it."

I discussed the love of God and the wrath of God in some detail, aiming for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches, as part of my study of Ephesians chapter 1 that is on my internet site. I'll include extensive excerpts from that study here: There's a lot of teaching around the body of Christ about God's unconditional love. I believe much of this teaching is simply wrong, and it can be dangerous. It goes beyond the balanced teaching of the Bible to tell people that God will always continue to love them just the same no matter what they believe or what they do. This out-of-balance teaching is one reason there's so little fear of God and so little repentance and motivation for righteousness and holiness in so many Christians.

Let's not see how far we can push the love and grace of God. It's not that we can in ourselves be worthy of, or earn, God's love, but if we continue to reject and disdain His love and grace [including His sanctifying grace], we will ultimately be confronted with His eternal wrath, not His eternal love. Compare, for example, Rom. 2:4-10; Gal. 5:19-21; 6:7-9; Eph. 2:3 ('children of wrath,' on the path that culminates in God's wrath in the day of His wrath); 5:1-7; and Col. 3:5-11. The Old Testament verses that spoke of God's never-ending love for Israel, by the way, did not cover those individuals who willfully (and without repentance) forsook their covenant with God. Sincere Christians who love God and are living for Him in His truth and His righteousness are not in danger of facing God's eternal wrath, but they can block the full flow of His experiential love through failing to live in the center of His will. Let's not settle for less than God's will for us - for His full glory, and for our sakes. If we don't make these things top priority, they will never come to pass. For one thing, we face strong opposition from the world, the flesh (the old man who wants to continue in sin), and the devil and his multitudinous hosts.

It's true, of course, that we must emphasize God's love, mercy, and forgiveness. (The devil and his hosts spend a lot of time attacking God's people, telling them that God doesn't love them, when He does; telling them they have committed the unpardonable sin, when they haven't; telling them they never can stop sinning, that God's grace isn't sufficient; etc.) But it's not acceptable to put all the emphasis here. It won't work! We need the full gospel (which includes the-balanced-truth-of-what-the-Bible-teaches gospel)! God knows our hearts; He knows if we are making Him and His Word top priority in our hearts. If we're not, we're going to have to make it top priority to change by His sufficient grace in Christ through faith.

...many Christians have accepted worldly ideas about what love means (the world of our day loves words like love, tolerance, and peace), ideas that substantially miss, and often directly contradict, dominant themes of the Bible. The primary problem that I am concerned with - and it is a very serious problem - is the idea that since God is love, He cannot have great wrath, eternal wrath, and He certainly cannot cast people into hell. This idea contradicts the Bible; it is also one of the main reasons that there is so little repentance and fear of God among so many Christians in our day. Why take the warnings of the Bible seriously?

Let's briefly consider John 3:16. This is a significant verse, but many read way too much into it and do not balance out what is said here with the rest of the verses in the passage (and the rest of the Bible). John 3:18, 36, for example, show that those who willfully reject the gospel are condemned already (that is, they are condemned from the time that they willfully reject the gospel, unless they later repent) and that the wrath of God (not the love of God) abides on them. In a very real sense, they have already had their final judgment. [I had a footnote, John 5:24 shows that it is also true, and it is a glorious truth indeed, that those who submit to the gospel in faith have already had their final judgment. This does not mean that they could not later reverse this judgment if they are foolish enough to turn away from their faith commitment to Christ and His salvation.] When God sent His Son, He knew what was in the hearts of all people. He knew that many were committed to evil and that they would not receive Christ or submit to the gospel in faith. He knew that Christ's coming would force such people to manifest what was in their hearts - Christ's coming to such people, or the gospel's coming to them, greatly increases their sinful status before God (see, e.g., John 3:19-21; 15:18-25).

We will continue this discussion of Col. 3:5-9 under Eph. 5:7 in this verse-by-verse study of Eph. 5:1-21 in Part 3 of this 4 Part paper.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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