How Ephesians Killed My “Radical” Christianity

by Pastor Peter Jones

Note: This has nothing to do with David Platt’s book Radical. I have never read it or to my knowledge read anything else he has written.

What is a Radical?

Definitions matter. So before proceeding I wanted to define the term “radical.” By “radical,” I mean that strain of Christian thinking that says living a normal Christian life, getting married, having children, raising them in Christ, loving your spouse, being faithful at your job, attending worship, reading your Bible, praying, loving the saints, and then dying is not enough. It is that strain of Christianity that says, “There must be something more that I must do to be a good Christian.” The radical thinks and preaches that, “Good Christians do amazing things for Jesus.” This type of thinking is found in all branches of Christianity. There are mission weeks, revival meetings, monks who abandon all, elusive second blessings, pilgrimages to Rome, women who leave marriage and children far behind, men who leave jobs to enter the ministry, young men who believe that memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism is a means of grace, preachers who imply that Word and Sacraments are not enough, and conference speakers who demand that we pray more and more. The halls of faith echo with phrases like: Be radical. Give it all up for Jesus. Sacrifice everything.

I was raised to think like this and my guess is that many of you were as well. Our Christian life was driven by questions like , “Am I doing enough?” But over time I found that this pressure to do great things for God was not just burdensome, but it was unbiblical. The epiphany came as I studied Ephesians a few years back.

Radical Indeed

The first chapters of Ephesians are some of the most glorious chapters in all the New Testament. All Scripture is inspired by God, but maybe Ephesians is blessed with a double portion. Here are a few of the verses about our great salvation.

We are blessed with every spiritual blessing (1:3).
We are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (1:4).
We have redemption through his blood (1:7).
We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (1:13).
We were dead. Now we are alive (2:1).
We have been raise up with Christ and seated with Him (2:6).
We were once strangers to the covenant, but now have been brought near (2:12-13).
We have access through Christ by the Spirit to the Father (2:18).

And on and on and on it goes. (See especially 3:17-21.) Paul gives us a grand picture of the great redemption we have in Christ and the great work our Lord did for us. Chapters 1-3 of Ephesians are Paul’s unfolding of this mystery (3:9) to the saints at Ephesus. In chapter 4, Paul begins to explain to the saints what this mean for their daily lives. Ephesians is neatly divided between what God has done for us in Christ (1-3) and how we are to respond (4-6). Or to use other terms it is divided between the indicative and imperative.

Not So Much

The first three chapters are radical. Coming back from the dead is radical. Being made clean is radical. Being united to the covenant, as a Gentile, is radical. But when we get to chapters 4-6 the radicalness disappears. After reading chapters 1-3 we would expect Paul to turn on the jets. We are Spirit-filled, covenant included, blood bought, once dead-now alive, Christians. We were made to do great things. If Paul were a modern preacher he would follow this up with a call to evangelize or do missions or go give all you have to the poor or change the world (or at least your community) or start a neighborhood Bible study. He would close Ephesians with a call to be radical.

But the real Paul disappoints us. There is nothing in these chapters about doing amazing things for Christ. There is nothing about missions or evangelism. There is nothing about changing the world or your community. There is no call to give away all you have. Paul does not encourage the men to examine themselves to see if they are called to the ministry. Women are not encouraged to leave all behind and be “fully devoted to Jesus.” There is no call to parents to make sure they raise “radical” children. So what does Paul tell us to do?

Live with one another in lowliness and patience
Reject false doctrine and grow into maturity (4:13-15).
Put off the old man. (4:22)
Don’t lie. (4:25)
Get rid of sinful anger. (4:26-27)
Stop stealing and work hard so you can give to those who
have need (4:28).
Watch your speech (4:29, 31, 5:4).
Be kind to one another (4:28).
Don’t be sexually immoral (5:3-7).
Avoid fellowship with darkness (5:11).
Speak to one another songs (5:19).
Give thanks (5:20).
Wives submit to husbands (5:22, 24).
Husbands love wives (5:250).
Children obey parents (6:1-3).
Fathers raise godly children (6:4).
Work hard for those over you (6:5-9).
Fight against the Devil and his minions (6:10-20)

Not very radical is it?

A Bad Kind of Radical

Paul is radical, but not in a way we like. He is radical about killing sin. He wants us to stop having fits of anger. He wants us to cut out our gossiping tongue. He wants us to be thankful in all circumstances. He wants us to pray. He wants us to get rid of greed. He wants us to make sure we keep our speech clean. All of this sounds pretty boring and hard. What sounds more exciting a speaker talking about reaching your community for Christ or one talking about taming your wayward tongue?

We don’t like Paul’s call to be radical because it is a lot easier to love the lost whom we haven’t seen than our wife who we see every day. We don’t like it because forgiveness is hard (4:32) and fornication is easy (5:3). We don’t like it because we would rather be known for doing something amazing than be obscure and keep the peace (4:3). We don’t like it because he says a lot about submission and nothing about evangelizing the ladies at Starbucks. In the end, those calls to be radical aren’t radical at all. They are just a distraction. The Christian life is not about going some place for Jesus or doing great things for him. It is being holy right where we are. It is loving our brothers and sisters in our churches. It is being faithful to our family obligations. It is working hard at our vocations. In a fallen world, if we do this, we are being radical enough.
Pastor Peter Jones is pastor of Christ Church of Morgantown, West Virginia. This if from his blog, KUYPERIAN COMMENTARY.

23 thoughts on “How Ephesians Killed My “Radical” Christianity

  1. Oh, YES! That’s IT! He NAILED it! Succinct, to the point, in a nutshell . . . this is the hard thing of the “Do Hard Things” mindset. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Do think this is what Robert Murray M’Cheyne was getting at when he said, “What my people need the most is my personal holiness?”

  3. Pingback: Excellent blog post about truly "radical" Christianity

  4. Sounds like you have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. You are correct, the “radical” life you present, apart from living the life of chapters 4-6 is fruitless. But the reaction to this teaching is not to tell people “just live a normal life”. Sharing the message of salvation with many is radical, giving of “your” money to the work of ministry and missions is radical. Telling people not to do great things for Christ or rather neglecting to tell them is a disservice to your congregation. Would we have a D.L. Moody without a preacher telling his congregation they can do great things for Christ? Would we have a William Wilberforce or a William Carey or David Livingstone? I think the answer is to teach both! Where would Paul be without Barnabas? Who did radical things like sell his properties? Paul going to the ends of the earth with the gospel is radical. It’s not an either or, it’s a both and, but I agree with you the teaching of doing “radical” apart from the living “right” is not taught these days, and I appreciate you bringing it forward!

  5. Not too sure about this. More to the Bible than Ephesians.

    Also, this:
    it is a lot easier to love the lost whom we haven’t seen than our wife who we see every day

    Hmm, then why are so few Christians loving the lost?

  6. I remember a decade or so ago I was asking The Lord what “radical” thing He wanted me to do, and as I was reading the Psalms this verse shouted His answer, “Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.” Psalm 37:3b Not what I was expecting. However, I agree with the commenter above, it is a both/and. We need the William Carey’s and Martin Luther’s of the faith also, but we should not feel that we are failing or coasting if God is calling us to “merely” dwell in the land.

  7. Pingback: Really Radical Christianity | The Common Room

  8. i understand what you’re saying. What is radical is following God in all things. Whether it is big or little isn’t the issue. Some are called to be crucified upside down, some die quietly at home. It’s following God, not whether we do this or that, which brings the holy awe into things. This, you have to be radical to even count mentality is evident in everything. Instead of saying I gave 100% we now say I gave 110%. How can that even be? We only have 100% to give in the first place! It’s evident in planning which has gone to the ocd level. It’s evident in entertainment – it’s gotta be bigger, bolder, more edgy or it’s no good.

    I am not just saying settle for good enough nor do I think this is what the article is saying. I’m simply saying following God is the measure – whether it’s taking the trash out on time, saying that kind word the Lord prompts you to share or sharing the gospel with thousands. If God is leading then follow.

  9. I think the key is this: God calls each one of us to obedience. Whatever he is calling us individually to do that day, that moment in time is our Calling! Obedience will look different for each of us. Yes, there are some absolutes. We are to repent and be converted and strive to live a holy life, but the specifics will look different for each of us. We don’t have to have some “great” ministry; obedience is enough!

  10. Thank you Pastor Steve for posting this excellent article by Pastor Peter Jones. Voddie Bauchman shared this on Facebook. The timing is amazing, since last night I watched a sermon by David Platt that rocked my world (In a good way) and now I see this article….And you posted it!!!!! Small world, huh? Love you brother. Mark

  11. “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.” – Ephesians 4:2-6

  12. I want to both strongly agree and strongly disagree with this! First of all, when I say “radical” I mean radical as opposed to “American normal”, which is not biblical Christianity at all. To be radical in the eyes of the modern church is simply to be biblical. Thus, I AGREE strongly with all the points the author made from the Bible (Loving our wife, working hard to give to the poor, raising children, reading Bible, praying; etc.). Where I disagree is when the author says “this is enough”. If we ONLY had the book of Ephesians to pull from, I would be compelled to agree. However, we have an entire canon of Scripture, in which many other passages describe the “normal Christian life”. Here are a few:

    Acts 8:1, 4 “…And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles… and those who were scattered went about PREACHING the Word.” (Note: NOT the apostles, but the ‘laymen’).

    Hebrews 10:32-34 “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

    In these passages, we see that witnessing was NORMAL, not RADICAL. Indeed, “joyfully accepting the plundering of your property” or even dying for Christ was normal (See Hebrews 11). There is no Christianity in the Bible that doesn’t know of witnessing! Again, I LOVED the article- but I don’t agree that we can simply do the things in Ephesians and pat ourselves on the back without doing ‘more’… because there is ‘more’ in the Bible than Ephesians! The normal Christian life is reflective of all the descriptions of Christian behavior both in Ephesians AND the rest of the canon!

    I have met men who witness and do church programs so much that they neglect their wife and children. I know what the author is talking about. I don’t agree that it’s EASIER to witness/love the stranger than it is to love your wife! The two are different, but both are a challenge to our selfish and cowardly flesh. The flesh is always looking for an excuse to be comfortable. Some men’s flesh is comfortable sharing the gospel without love; others are comfortable loving their children and using it as an excuse to never share the gospel. We are called to do both, and especially to grow in whichever area keeps us from living the normal/radical Christian life!

  13. It’s the “radical” label that I think throws everyone off. I agree with Pastor Jones. The Christian life is really very simple (not easy), and we tend to complicate it by buying into the philosophy that we need to “do something amazing for God.” God doesn’t need us to do anything for him. He’s been doing fine without us. He does desire to invite us into what he is doing, and that’s when we witness radical things. By radical I mean things from a simple word of encouragement that opens a closed heart to the love and truth of Jesus, or a William Wilberforce-type culture shift. How we measure greatness has more to do with size and flair and celebrity than impact. God doesn’t measure things that way. In Matthew 25, in the parable of the separation of the sheep and goats, Jesus lists some very small, simple, humble acts as things worthy of the kingdom: Giving a drink of water, offering a meal, or a coat; visiting the sick. Living radical is living under the grace of God and in the love of God. People just don’t do that. In Matthew 24, during the Olivet Discourse, Jesus describes the horror of the end times and says, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). To love others in a world where love has grown cold is radical, and it will lead you to the smallest gestures and the greatest sacrifices. Our task, as Christians, is to be in communion with God and to follow him into whatever he may lead us into – trusting him – and God will do great things.

  14. I agree. Sometimes living a “normal life” is all He calls us to do. Somedays anything else sounds lots more exciting. I really want to disciple someone but I can’t find anyone interested. I’ve discovered God doesn’t want me to do that right now. He wants me to be at home, loving my husband, taking care of our home, and teaching my children. Not near as much fun as I think I could have doing something else for His Kingdom. But I am wrong. This is where He is calling me and it is VERY important work for His Kingdom!!!!

  15. Pingback: It Isn’t All About the Kids After All - Gospel TeacherJack Klumpenhower | Gospel Teacher

  16. Pingback: The Arrogance of Radical Christianity

  17. Reblogged this on Who Me? and commented:
    The first three chapters are radical. Coming back from the dead is radical. Being made clean is radical. Being united to the covenant, as a Gentile, is radical. But when we get to chapters 4-6 the radicalness disappears. After reading chapters 1-3 we would expect Paul to turn on the jets. We are Spirit-filled, covenant included, blood bought, once dead-now alive, Christians. We were made to do great things. If Paul were a modern preacher he would follow this up with a call to evangelize or do missions or go give all you have to the poor or change the world (or at least your community) or start a neighborhood Bible study. He would close Ephesians with a call to be radical.

    But the real Paul disappoints us.

  18. Pingback: Avoid ‘radical’ — works-based — Christianity | Churchmouse Campanologist

  19. Pingback: Stupendous Selections on Sunday | Afterthoughts

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