Do we need blessed assurance or wise warnings? Trick question, or maybe a trick answer…because the answer is “Yes!” It is not an “either/or” but a “both/and.”
I was very blessed to study under a world-renowned expert on Asia Minor and the ancient city of Ephesus named Richard (“Rick”) E. Oster during my time at Harding School of Theology in Memphis. Part of that study was actually done at Ephesus itself, where he served as one of our guides through museums and ancient ruins, pointing out the significance of unearthed items and landscapes.
I am grateful for the investment he made in our growth. In particular, I am glad to have dozens of pages of notes from his classes and lectures, including many pages on Ephesians and other letters of Paul the apostle.
As Dr. Oster took us through Ephesians 5, he pointed out how Paul continues to hammer home the way of holiness. Some things match up with a life that is holy and some things do not.
Here is what Paul wrote to these growing disciples: “You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. 7 Don’t participate in the things these people do. 8 For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! 9 For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. 10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:5-10, NLT).
In verses 5 and 6, Paul is not warning them about the spiritual future of their pagan friends; he is warning them that they themselves could lose their inheritance in Christ! Paul believed they needed to understand that if you live like pagans God will treat you like pagans.
Paul told them not to be duped by empty lies (“Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins” NLT; “Let no one deceive you with empty words” ESV). Dr. Oster taught us that the deceptive, worthless words could be people saying, “Don’t worry about this kind of behavior—it will not hurt you at all.”
As I hear the words of Ephesians for us today, I am thrilled by the wonderful promises, blessings, and power available to us in Christ Jesus. But, I am also thankful for the safeguards against our spiritual shipwreck. We need blessed assurance. We also need wise warnings.
I am very encouraged that we are taught to “live as people of light” (v.8). Would God tell us to do that if we could not do it? God gives us the power to live as light, which will produce in us “good and right and true” things (v.9).
Let’s keep listening to the words of God, written long ago, but relevant for us today. The words of God and the Holy Spirit of God can assist us as we prayerfully seek to “determine what pleases the Lord” (v.10). As we do that, the light we shine will point others to the God we love.