How to Be a Proper Christian: Ephesians 4 – 6

Rules upon Rules upon Rules. Spiritual Armor. Moving on to the Next Letter.

“…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
Ephesians 4:1b (NIV) 

All religions come with their stereotypical behaviors, and why wouldn’t they? If a group of people dedicate their lives to a spiritual following, then of course their actions will shift into some identifiable norm according to the statutes commanded of them. Some religions demand stricter behaviors, and so their followers become more uniform.

For instance, it is far easier for you to identify a devout Muslim than a Universalist. The reason is obvious (and no, not because of skin color). Islam requires its followers to participate in structured prayer, precise dress, and a restricted diet. Universalists, on the other hand, have very few (or arguably no) laws governing its people. It is much more of a loose mindset for processing life experiences and turning a kind face to your neighbor.

Mormons also tend to be devout – you can catch them avoiding R-rated movies, abstaining from caffeine, and going on a two-year mission somewhere in the midst of their college years. They are also some of the nicest people you will ever find. You might be able to point a Sikh out from a crowd because of his distinctive dress or identify a Buddhist from her daily meditation and calm demeanor.

So how can we point a Christian out from the crowd?

Paul uses the second half of Ephesians to tell the eponymous city exactly how they ought to act as Christians. We have heard most of what he lists before. Avoid falsehood (4:25). Do not sin in anger (26). Never steal (27). Do not speak unwholesome words (29). Get rid of bitterness and rage (31). Be kind and compassionate (32).

There is some talk of sexual immorality, gossip, unwise actions, and husband-wife relations – all of which you can probably guess the Bible’s stance.

So then, when you see someone kind and gentle, honest and humble – do you immediately think that they are Christian?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The loudest members of a group tend to dominate the conversation, which tends to be why negative stereotypes linger in the memory. Play a game of word association, and you’ll find “Muslim” paired often with “terrorist,” “Jew” with “cheap,” and “Christian” with “bigot.” Every religion fights their own stereotypes, and it’s led some followings to resort to PR campaigns in order to change the public’s view.

I’ve been thinking about what I would look like if I gave in fully to Christianity again. What would that mean for my behavior – would it change my demeanor? Would it be something I could proclaim loudly without embarrassment, or is it something I would leave off my life resume?

Because honestly, I have had some incredible role models of Christianity and some truly damaging ones. I’m only human, so you can guess which ones have lingered.

The Club: Ephesians 1 – 3

The Chosen Ones. The Marriage of Jew and Gentile. Some Prayers.

“…[H]e lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.”
Ephesians 1:8-9 (NIV)

I admired the class clowns growing up. You know the guy, the one who has a quip for every scenario and can make a grown teacher cry. I think I admired him, because I could never ever do what he did. First of all, I was a complete nerd who constantly sought the approval of my superiors, so I wouldn’t have been able to do something that knowingly pissed any of them off. Honestly though, the real reason? I just wasn’t quick enough. Whatever wit required, I didn’t have it, much to my disappointment.

So why I decided to audition for the improv troup in college, I’ll never know. I certainly did not have the skill set, and the bar was set high. This team performed every other Sunday to standing room only crowds (sure, in a 40-seater black box, but whatever). They were the class clowns of their respective high schools, and they were smart. Everyone on campus seemed to love them.

I tanked my audition. They didn’t even give me a call back.

Someone else might have taken that as a sign to move on, but I didn’t want to give up. I decided to go to every single show to study their performances. I read books like “Truth in Comedy” and “Improvise” in hopes of acquiring the “improv thought pattern.” I took classes over the summer at the Philly Improv Theatre, taking the R line from my suburban home to the tiny little theater in Rittenhouse Square. All of this was to prep for my sophomore year, when I would just blow them away at my second audition.

They didn’t let me in. Again. I was absolutely devastated, that I could work so hard to achieve something so relatively small, and yet still fail. But it wasn’t the failure that hurt so much; it was the feeling of being left out. I wanted into their club. I wanted to be one of the guys.

I ended up improvising with a few friends for practice, and we formed our own little team. We wanted to do a show, just to test out our prowess, but had no venue. Then, we got an offer. The team that rejected me twice said they wanted an opener. They wanted to know if we were interested in the spot. We happily agreed.

I was in the club – sort of.

Christianity is an exclusive club, if we are to believe Paul. The middle of the New Testament is dedicated solely to the letters that Paul wrote to various budding Christian communities. The rhetoric of these books stands in sharp contrast to the testimonies of Jesus. He was speaking to the uninitiated, hoping to convert them to his faith. Paul, instead, speaks to the believer – the guy who is already in the club – about how he should act towards his brethren.

It reads like a “rules of initiation” for a club. And the words he uses implies exclusivity. He says God “chose” and “predestined us,” which implies that others have been left out. And the spoils for being chosen are great. He has lavished “wisdom and understanding” on us and has guaranteed “our inheritance” which is eternal life and happiness.

There is mounting evidence that we do not choose God, but rather, He chooses us. And so if we are among the “saved,” we ought to count ourselves lucky. We’ve been predestined for untold fortune.

My little improv troupe garnered a fair amount of attention. We traveled around and performed frequently. We opened the “main” troupe for a year and a half, and I loved the opportunity to put all that work into practice. As it turned out, I was decent with comedy. I would never be the best, but that was okay.

But you know… even after all that accomplishment, most of which I had made for myself… I still wanted to be in the real “club” – the one that had rejected me. Somehow, it just wasn’t the same.