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Princeton Presbyterian Church  (EPC)                                              Sermon # 1220

July 12, 2015                                                                                      Luke 9:23-27

Dr. Ed Pettus                                                                                      Ephesians 2:1-10


“Following Jesus”


Who we follow and who follows us!


If you are familiar with Twitter or Facebook or other social networks on the internet, then you know something about the language of following and being followed.  For those of you who have been spared the agony of technology like this, these websites keep people connected in one way or another and sometimes giving more information than we care to know.  Twitter, for instance, is a social networking website where people can make statements or give updates or link to other things on the internet.  It is a short version of blogging (internet journaling) because you are limited to typing a certain number of characters.  In essence Twitter is sharing whatever you want in short bursts.  Facebook is more about friends and Twitter can include friends but it also includes lots of people beyond your friend list.  I follow racing drivers and organizations on twitter that I do not follow on Facebook, but I have a lot more requests on Twitter for people I do not know in any way who want to follow me.  I’m sure they just want to sell me something eventually. 

Twitter invites us to follow and be followed.  Who do you follow on Twitter?  To follow someone on Twitter means you are interested in what they are saying and doing.  We may follow tweeters for a variety of reasons:  we value that person’s opinions, we want to be more informed, or we just want to have fun with tweeting. 


“Follow me.” –Jesus


Twitter is a simple example of the question, who or what do you follow?  Jesus says in the gospels that we are called to take up our cross and follow him.  Following any other is idolatry.  Early in the gospels Jesus addressed the disciples before they were disciples and said, “Follow me.”  To Peter he said follow me and I will make you fish for people.  The only thing Jesus said to Matthew was “follow me”.  Following Jesus means more than just reading what he said like a Tweet!  Following Jesus meant laying down the work of fishing or the job of tax collecting and committing one’s entire life to follow Jesus, to walk with him, to do what he commanded, to love him, to stay with him through good times and bad – to follow the leader. 


Most likely all of us played Follow the Leader as children.  I remember getting in line and following someone, taking the same steps, making the same motions, and I could not wait for my turn to lead.  The childhood game becomes a way of life as we grow and learn that we will be following something or someone in life itself.  Everyone follows someone or something.  Even great leaders follow certain principles or beliefs.  Even atheists follow concepts and ideals of some sort.  No one is autonomous or self-sufficient. 


Ephesians 2 is one of many passages that build the foundation for Reformed teachings of God’s gift of salvation, of God’s grace, and God’s purposes for our lives.  Most sermons would emphasize those verses as I have done many times in the past.  I want to address this passage through the lens of following.  Paul is setting up the contrast between the way we have once lived without Christ and the way we now live in Christ.  In one sense, Paul is calling on us to follow the leader. 



Alternatives to Jesus…all false ways


To live by faith is to ponder, at some level, every day of our lives, the question of how we are going to live faithfully to God knowing that living faithfully means following Jesus as a disciple.  The apostle Paul pondered such things as he wrote letters of encouragement to the churches he had helped establish and where he preached and taught. 


In Ephesians 2 Paul begins with a statement about the human condition.  He says, “you were dead through your trespasses and sins in which you once lived.”  It is a story we know far too well.  We have lived in sin.  We have rebelled against God.  We have done that through the three ways Paul lifts up for us to see: “by following the course of this world, by following the ruler of the power of the air, and by following the desires of the flesh.”    One might conclude from Paul that there are at least three false ways of living and all entail following someone or something other than God.  We might even say that apart from following Jesus Christ, everyone outside of Christ is following one or more of these three leaders.  We might also say that when we sin, we are for a moments failing to follow Jesus for the sake of following one of these three paths. 


Paul gives these three examples: 

†      We follow the course of the world—we just simply let the world tell us how to live our lives.  We decide that the world is right, that we should look out for number one, we ought to do whatever everybody else is doing, or we think we really do deserve our fair share and then some.  We become like a cork in the river just going with whatever flow comes along.  We feel like this is the case for some churches and many people who trust more in public opinion than the word of God.  We know that the poison in the church is when the cultural tides seep in and change the course from biblical foundations to the whims of trendy thought. 


†      Second possibility: we might follow the ruler of the power of the air.  The power of the air is know in scripture as Satan.  We fall prey to the deceiver and let Satan lead us around as if we have no regard for God’s word.  We listen to the junk food teachings of the devil and then wonder why our lives aren’t more spiritual.  Then there are those who have no concern at all for God and follow the evil one and they become more evil than we could ever imagine. 


†      Thirdly, we follow the desires of the flesh—we do what we feel like doing when we feel like doing it.  If we are not following the world or the devil, we will just follow ourselves; after all, we think we can do it on our own anyway.  In this way of life we perhaps reflect most what we read in 1 John 2:15-17, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”  This could be reflected in all three of the Ephesians paths because all of them come from something other than the will of God. 


            All three of these ways lead us to death.  Paul said they were dead through following the ways of the world, the ways of Satan, and the ways of human understanding.  That includes us.  We let the world set the standards, or we follow the evil plans of a deceiver or we trust solely in ourselves.  It is death, death, death in all three false ways!  We follow what we love most.  It is a pretty sad picture.  Fortunately, that is not the end of our story!


But God – rich in mercy


One of the most important words in the Bible might be the word “but.”  BUT…BUT…BUT…says Paul, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” Even when we were still willing to follow the ways of death, God took it upon God’s self to make us alive with Christ.  Even while we were unable and unwilling to come to God, God came to us.  This is the miracle of God’s faithfulness to God’s people.  God made us alive when we were dead.  God saved us while we were lost.  God redeemed us while we were sinners.  God delivered us out of our bondage when we were following the world, the devil, and the self. 


            This perspective helps us understand how we might live in the world today.  That is to say that everything we do is a response to what God has already done for us in His grace.  How are we to respond to this God?  How do we live our lives in such a way that we may better love God and love one another?  How might we walk in the Spirit?  What does the Christian life mean for us, in our perplexing times, in our hostile context, in our town, on the job, or wherever we might be?  In all these questions we are saying that we want to follow only Jesus, not the world, not the devil, and not the self.  We follow Jesus Christ and His inspired word given to us in the Holy Scriptures.  If we are not following Jesus, the only other avenues are the world, the devil, or the self.  


How shall we live in the world today…


There are at least five affirmations from Ephesians 2 we might make as Christians.  These affirmations help us to live in Jesus and not become tempted or deceived into following any false way:


  1. A Christian recognizes that we were once dead.  (Eph. 2:1-3)

Paul said we are sinners and sinners are dead.  That is a crucial step in coming to Christ.  We must realize we are sinners in need of forgiveness from God in Christ.  Those who sin are dead people walking.  Those who rebel against God deserve judgment and death.  We first must come to this realization admitting we have a problem.  On our own we are only able to follow the ways that lead to death.  When we come to understand that we are sinners we also discover that we are not able to work our way back to God on our own.  In fact, our work will do us no good at all.  We cannot earn our salvation.  Thus, we are left in a desperate situation; we are dead.  We need help – we need God.


  1. A Christian recognizes what God has done. (Eph. 2:4-7)

Paul says God has “made us alive!”  It is God’s work to make us alive.  We cannot do it because, as the first point here demonstrates, we are dead in our sin.  We live only because of God.   We we grasp what God has done for us, we respond in thanksgiving, in love, in devotion, in all the ways we see expressed in faith.  We find in Christ that we are loved, known, saved, called, and that Christ is with us.  As dead sinners we have an ongoing charge to wake up, to wake up to the living Christ who raises us from our death in sin. 


  1. A Christian places faith in Jesus Christ. (Eph. 2:8-9)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  Grace is a gift.  Faith is a gift.  As we grow in Christ, we come to see these truths more deeply and it causes us to grow more and more thankful and to follow more obediently.  Once dead in our sins, now Christ has set us free, and all we have left is to receive God’s gift.  But we do have to receive it, accept it, and welcome it.  We receive this gift through faith.  Such faith has great depth—it includes our belief and our trust in God, and a knowledge about God and of God.  John Calvin said of faith, “we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us…” 

But Calvin’s definition only covers knowledge about God.  There is still the depth of faith that knows God.  This is the level of personal relationship, the closeness of friendship.   To live the Christian life and be faith filled is to live in friendship with Christ.


  1. A Christian seeks faithfulness to God, obedience to God’s word, and steadfastness in our love. (Eph. 2:10)

To be a Christian is to become obedient to God through faith and love.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  We are invited to grow in Christ, to become sanctified by Christ in order to do good works.  This is a life of obedience—to word, to church, to God.   It is obedience lived, not out of fear, but out of love.  And love makes obedience a delight.


  1. A Christian belongs to the body of Christ. (Eph. 2:5-7)

…it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  Paul characteristically uses the phrase “in Christ” to describe our life.  We belong to Christ, we are the body of Christ, and we are in Christ.  That reality is one that permeates every ounce of our being—every bit of our physical, emotional, and spiritual body.  We are not alone; we are part of a community of faith and love.


            How then shall we live? 

·       As ones who recognize sin, that we cannot follow the world, the devil, or our own flesh,

How then shall we live? 

·       Awakened to what God has done for our salvation, that we follow Jesus Christ because he is our Savior,

How then shall we live? 

·       As faith filled friends of Christ, that we follow Christ because he is the One in whom we place all our trust,

How then shall we live? 

·       As obedient lovers of God and neighbor, for the One we follow has so deeply loved us,

How then shall we live? 

·       And, as individuals in community who belong to God, sharing the journey as fellow followers of Jesus. 


This passage in Ephesians identifies who we are in Christ.  Now we face a changing national mindset that no longer accepts or respects the ways of God or identifying one’s self as a Christian.  We used to walk among citizens who held, at the very least, a respect for the church and the Christian faith.  But today we walk more among a people who follow the world, the devil, or themselves, without any respect for the church, and thus, no regard for God.  It may not be felt here in Princeton for some time.  It may be less prominent in the South, but it is a growing sense throughout the national consciousness.  Until “we the people”, that is, the people of God, who have lived under the shadow of a “Christian nation” begin to take a stand and speak truth to power, it will get worse.  We have received the grace of God that saves us from the death of following the world, the devil, or the self.  We are made alive by God’s grace and only by his grace are we now able to follow Jesus, and only in Jesus will we know life and peace and wholeness.  This is our message to the world today.  Jesus is still the Savior.  God is not dead.  The Holy Spirit gives true life.  If you continue to follow the world or the devil or yourself, you will surely die.  We can be encouraged today in this message of redemption for ourselves as believers and encouraged to take this message to the world – for it is the message of life.  Jesus has done for the world what the world could never do and what we could not do for ourselves; he die that we might live (Rom. 5:8). 

            Let us follow Jesus Christ will all our being and share the message of Christ with all who will listen. Amen.