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Righteousness by Faith #14: I was living a fool’s life

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:15-18

I remember when I was still addicted to anger that I would get on the phone and yell at people who worked for the phone company or customer service—people who needed to address a problem their company had caused. A problem in which I used the full flow of my anger to vent on them. I would hang up ashamed of my lack of control. But all addiction is intoxicating and I would justify myself by the results it produced—although of course, sometimes they just hung up!

I look back now and realize that I was a fool. I did not understand the will of God for me as a believer. Although I did not ‘get drunk with wine,’ I was debauched. Anger was my drink of choice.

Paul is winding down a long teaching on how to live the life we have been given—this righteousness by faith. Two lessons he includes in this passage were some of the toughest I had to learn on my own journey

The first was the difference between being wise and being a fool. A fool is someone who cannot see how his or her actions, beliefs or attitudes are not in line with the character of Jesus. A fool excuses himself based on getting the outcome he wanted. A fool continues to live in darkness long after the lights come on. In the previous paragraph, Paul says that living in the light means discovering what pleases the Lord.

I was content to stay angry and damaged long after I had begun to journey with God. I felt it was okay that I was drunk on anger because that was just the way I was. Deal with it! This attitude was why God allowed me to crash and burn, so that I would finally surrender to His work, His purpose—to make me whole. So that I would finally pursue Him to receive His powerful grace to live wisely and make the most of the time I have.

I don’t know what your drink of choice is. Perhaps it is greed and you hoard your earnings for yourself. Or maybe you have been guzzling lust in the form of pornography. Or drunk on envy and hate the outward signs of someone else’s good fortune. And you are already a believer, perhaps a leader in your church? Time to wake up sleeper! (Ephesians 5:14)

Being wise means you see that the days are evil and decide that you will not make them worse by the way you live your life. Having received a righteousness by faith will drive you to give it out to those still trapped. You look for opportunities, whether to sow the gospel, reconcile with people of different races, do justice, feed the hungry, or wipe the tears away from the eyes of those without hope. You look for ways to live freely and lovingly. This is the first lesson.

The second lesson is Paul’s end note. “Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Herein lies the power to actually live out righteousness by faith, but I didn’t understand this for years. I was raised to live faithfully, work hard for God, go to church, read my Bible and pray. I thought all those things were what being filled with the Spirit was all about. My descent into rage did not seem to upend my poorly informed ideas about the Spirit.

What does “be filled” mean? It means choosing to embrace a continual flow of relationship that produces power in your life. The Spirit is God’s presence in your life. Though it is impossible to talk about God without noting the Father, Son and Spirit, these three are not separate in the way three humans are. The one involves the others. Yet when we see the Spirit coming into the lives of those who believed in Acts, powerful changes took place. Amazing events happened. More importantly, people were empowered to live life as they were created to live it.

What I had to learn was not merely to assume it, but to actively choose to surrender to the Spirit’s empowering presence. Not just for the moment to get me beyond my anger days, but for the rest of my days.

More to come on this…

-Dr. Steve Smith