We all live our lives based on the values or principles we consider to be most important: what we believe shapes the way we live. This means that our lives will be an indication of the things we hold to be most important. Jesus described it this way: "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him" (Matt 12:34-35). Jesus also said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (6:21). The Bible is clear that a person's lifestyle and what they value the most shows the condition of their heart. The popular idea that a person can believe one thing and live contrary to that belief is false. Our actions, attitudes and words betray what is actually in our heart, even if what we profess to believe doesn't match.
This was not just a clever psychological observation by Jesus. He knew it to be true because it was true for him. The most important, treasured and valued thing for him was to do his Father's will and bring glory to his Father because, for Jesus, his Father is the most important, treasured and valued person. Consequently, Jesus' life, words and attitudes reflect this treasure that is in his heart: "I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father" (John 14:31, ESV).
This correspondence between our heart and life is part of what it means to be made in the image of God. God is always true to who he is and we can know who he is by the way he acts. As creatures made in God’s image, the same is true of us. We always act consistently with our desires. So, if the most valuable person in my life is myself, I will reflect this by shaping my life around what will most benefit me. As a result, I will become a person who is 'full of myself' with little room for considering others and their needs. The image of God is still there, but it has become twisted and corrupted so that instead of desiring God's glory above everything I want my own glory. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes it in this way:
You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. (Eph 2:1-3)
However, this is not a current description of the people Paul is writing to but a description of what they used to be. A revolutionary work has happened in their hearts as people who believe in Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. This work is the work of the gospel that Paul has described in the first three chapters of the letter: we were chosen in Christ before the world was created (1:4), redeemed through the cross and forgiven (1:7), caught up to participate in God’s plan for the world (1:9-10), given an inheritance that is guaranteed (1:14), and made a people with and in whom God is present in his fullness (1:23; 2:11-22). All of this is purely a gift of God's grace, not based in any way on our works (2:8-10), because he "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (3:20). The goal of all this is for God to be glorified "in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations" (3:21).
What an incredibly high and magnificent calling we have received! These things cannot be reduced to a mere system of beliefs because it has to do with the whole plan of God, for the whole of creation from beginning to end. To truly believe the gospel means being lost in wonder, love and praise, and seeing that worship of the heart overflow into a life that is worship.
Later in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (4:1). The expectation is that those who have been called by God's grace should live lives that 'are worthy' of, or 'correspond' to, the greatness of the grace that has come to us in Jesus. The life of someone whose heart has been truly changed by the power of the gospel will display "the riches of his glory" (3:16).
So what does this life look like, and how does it correspond to the calling we have received? There are many things we could look at, but Paul focuses in on four key fruits in Ephesians 4:2-3:
- Humility. Knowing that God, in Jesus, has done everything to reconcile us to himself and to give us a hope and a future should result in a deep and profound humility in which we seek to live every moment in complete dependence on his grace. Humility is not about putting ourselves down, but lifting others up; it's about wanting God to be glorified in all things and counting others as more important than ourselves.
- Gentleness. All of our rage against God the Father was dealt with when Jesus died for us, even while we were God's enemies. Having been reconciled to the Father, our angry hearts are stilled. We now live at peace with him, and so should seek to live at peace with one another. Gentleness in how we treat others will be the outworking of a heart that knows the Father.
- Patience, bearing with one another in love. We have seen God's incredible patience with humanity throughout history and in our own lives, as he constantly forgives us time and time again. God's forgiveness of us means that the call to forgive each other 'seventy times seven' is actually achievable when we are living by his grace.
- Eager to maintain unity. In the church, God has brought together people who would otherwise loath each other. He has "broken down the wall of hostility" (2:14) and has made us to participate in and reflect the unity of God himself as Father, Son and Spirit (see 4:4-6 – "one Spirit ... one Lord ... one God and Father"). This doesn't mean that we will always agree with each other. However, when we don't agree we should nevertheless love one another and still seek to have fellowship with each other.
You may have noticed that these four points have one key thing in common: they are all about how our relationship with God shapes our relationships with others. Living a life worthy of the gospel is not about morality (although that will be a part of it). Rather, it’s about how we relate to other people: to our brothers and sisters in the church and to those with whom we are seeking to share the gospel.