The Real Meets the Ideal

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  But that is not the way you learned Christ!” ~ Ephesians 4.17-20 [ESV]

“We are not altering the real to suit the ideal.  We are altering the ideal: it is easier.” ~ G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy

God has called his people to walk worthy of their calling (see Ephesians 4.1).  The calling is a high calling.  So high, as a matter of fact, that it’s inevitable that we’ll fall short of it.  Repeatedly.  “Every kind of impurity” is exactly what we’re not supposed to embrace, yet those impurities are so appealing sometimes, so accessible.  And the “high calling”?  Ugh!  Such a frustration!  Such an exercise in futility.  Come to think of it, isn’t that legalism…?

As it turns out, many of us struggle with the demands of discipleship, not the least of which would be self-denial (Mark 8.34).  Rather than find hope in the Spirit’s cry: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12.9), many people try to eliminate that carnal weakness by removing the Gospel’s challenge.  They alter the “ideal.”  They redefine sin.  They ignore the topic altogether.  They talk about grace as the negation of effort, rather than the means of it.

The completed work of Christ frees us to stare our insufficiencies in the face, because those insufficiencies are not disqualifying me from being a child of God anymore than our sufficiency qualified us at the outset.  The completed work of Christ means I can work out my salvation, knowing that HE has already worked it IN (Philippians 2.12-13)!  I don’t need to lower the bar or alter the ideal because I am confident that Jesus is completing his work in me (Philippians 1.6).  I don’t have to make excuses or gloss over my mess.  I don’t have to redefine purity or Christlikeness.  I have to yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit throughout each day, knowing that he will enable me “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4.22-24 / ESV)

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