Be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and put ye on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
This text is exceedingly valuable to us for it tells us the end and aim of all religion. It tells us why we are to pray, whether at home or in church; why we are to read our Bibles and good books; why we are to be what is commonly called religious.
It tells us, I say, the end and aim of all religion; namely, that we may put on 'the new man, which after God'--according to the likeness of God--'is created in righteousness and true holiness.' So says St. Paul in another place: 'Be ye therefore followers'--literally, copiers, imitators--'of God, as dear children.'
Now this is not what you will be told from too many pulpits, and in too many books, now-a-days, is the end of religion. You will be told that the end of religion is to save your soul, and go to heaven.
But experience shows, my friends, in all religions and in all ages, that those who make it their first object in life to save their souls, are but too likely to lose them; as our Lord says, He that saveth his soul, or life--for the words are the same in Scripture-- shall lose it.
And experience shows that in all religions, and in all ages, those who make it their first object in life to get to heaven, are but too likely never to get there: because in their haste, they forget what heaven is, and what is the only way of arriving at it.
Good works, as they call the likeness of God and the Divine life, are in too many persons' eyes only fruits of faith, or proofs of faith, and not the very end of faith, and of religion--ay, of their very existence here on earth; and therefore they naturally begin to ask,-- How few good works will be enough to prove their faith? And when a man has once set that question before himself, he is sure to find a comfortable answer, and to discover that very few good works indeed,- -a very little sanctification (as it is called), a very little righteousness, and a very little holiness,--will be enough to save his soul, as far at least as he wishes his soul to be saved. My friends, all this springs from that selfish view of religion which is gaining power among us more and more. Christ came to deliver us from our selfishness; from being slaves to our selfish prudence and selfish interest. But we make religion a question of profit and loss, as we make everything else. We ask--What shall I get by being good? What shall I get by worshipping God? Is it not prudent, and self-interested, and business-like to give up a little pleasure on earth, in the hope of getting a great deal in heaven? Is not religion a good investment? Is it not, considering how short and uncertain life is, the best of all life-insurances?
My friends, we who have to earn our bread and to take honest money for honest work, know well enough what trouble we have to keep out of our daily life that mean, base spirit of self-interest, rather than of duty, which never asks of anything, 'Is it right?' but only 'Will it pay me?'--which, instead of thinking, How can I do this work as well as possible? is perpetually thinking, How can I get most money for the least work? We have to fight against that spirit in worldly matters. For we know, that if we yield to it,--if we sacrifice our duty to our pleasure or our gain,--it is certain to make us do something mean, covetous, even fraudulent, in the eyes of God and man.
But if we carry that spirit into religion, and our spiritual and heavenly duties; if we forget that that is the spirit of the world; if we forget that we renounced the world at our baptism, and that we therefore promised not to shape our lives by ITS rules and maxims; if our thought is, not of whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, of good report, whatsoever brings us true honour and deserved praise from God and from man; if we think only that intensely selfish and worldly thought, How much will God take for saving my soul?--which is the secret thought (alas that it should be so!) of too many of all denominations,--then we shall be in a fair way of killing our souls; so that if they be saved, they will not at all events be saved alive. For we shall kill in our souls just those instincts of purity, justice, generosity, mercy, love, in one word, of unselfishness and unworldliness, which make the very life of the soul, because they are inspired by the Spirit of God, even the Holy Ghost. And we shall be but too likely not to sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus--as St. Paul tells us we may do even in this life: but to go to our own place--wherever that may be--with selfish Judas, who when he found that his Saviour was not about to restore the kingdom to Israel, and make a great prince of him there and then, made the best investment he could, under the danger which he saw at hand, by selling his Lord for thirty pieces of silver: to remain to all time a warning to those who are religious for self-interest's sake.
What, then, is the end and aim of true Religion? St. Paul tells us in the text. The end and aim, he says, of hearing Christ, the end and aim of learning the truth as it is in Jesus, is this--that we may be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. To put on the new man; the new pattern of manhood, which is after the pattern of the Son of man, Jesus Christ, and therefore after the pattern and likeness of God. To be followers, that is, copiers and imitators of God, that (so says St. Paul) is the end and aim of religion. In one word, we are to be good; and religion, according to St. Paul, is neither more nor less than the act of becoming good, like the good God.
To be like God. Can we have any higher and more noble aim than that? And yet it is a simple aim. There is nothing fantastic, fanatical, inhuman about it. It is within our reach--within the reach of every man and woman; within the reach of the poorest, the most unlearned. For how does St. Paul tell us that we can become like God?
'Wherefore,' he says, 'putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
Do that, he says, and you will be followers of God, as dear children; and thus will you surely save your souls alive. For they will be inspired by the Spirit of God, the spirit of goodness, who is the Lord and Giver of life; wherefore they cannot decay nor die, but must live and grow, develop and improve perpetually, becoming better and wiser,--and therefore more useful to their fellow-creatures, more blessed in themselves, and more pleasing to God their Father, through all eternity. And thus you will surely go to heaven. For heaven will begin on earth, and last on after this earth, and all that binds you to this earth, has vanished in the grave.
Heaven will begin on earth, I say. When St. Paul told these very Ephesians to whom my text was addressed, that God had made them sit, even then, in heavenly places with Christ Jesus, he did not mean in any wise--what they would have known was not true--that their bodies had been miraculously lifted up above the earth, above the clouds, or elsewhere: no, for he had told them before, in the first chapter, what he meant by heavenly places. God their Father, he says, had blessed them with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ, in that He had chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world--and for what end? For the very end which I have been preaching to you. 'That they should be holy, and without blame before God, in Love.' That was heaven. If they were that,--holy, blameless, loving, they were in heavenly places already,--in that moral and spiritual heaven in which God abides for ever. They were with God, and with all who are like God, as it is written, 'He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.'
My dear friends, this is the heaven for which we are all to strive--a heaven of goodness, wherein God dwells. And therefore an eternal and everlasting heaven, as eternal as goodness and as eternal as God himself; and if we are living in it, we have all we need. But we may begin to live in it here. To what particular place our souls go after death, Scripture does not tell us, and we need not know. To what particular place our souls and bodies go after the resurrection, Scripture tells us not, and we need not know. But this Scripture tells us, and that is enough for us, that they will be in heavenly places, in the presence of Christ and of God. And this Scripture tells us--and indeed our own conscience and reason tell us likewise-- that though death may alter our place, it cannot alter our character; though it may alter the circumstances round us, it cannot alter ourselves. If we have been good and pure before death, we shall be good and pure after death. If we have been led and inspired by God's Spirit before death, so shall we be after death. If we have been in heavenly places before death, thinking heavenly thoughts, feeling heavenly feelings, and doing heavenly deeds, then we shall be in heavenly places after death; for we shall have with us the Spirit of God, whose presence is heaven; and as long as we are holy, good, pure, unselfish, just, and merciful, we may be persuaded, with St. Paul, that wheresoever we go, all will be well; for 'neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'